In a conversation with FCCN, Edmundo Monteiro, Full Professor at the Faculty of Science and Technology of the University of Coimbra (FCTUC), and also Senior Researcher at the Center for Informatics and Systems of the University of Coimbra (CISUC), recalls the main moments and shares memories of when he participated in the first internet connections.
#1 It's 30 years since Portugal went online. Can you describe the role of the FCCN Unit (then the Foundation for the Development of National Means of Scientific Calculation) in this process?
FCCN was instrumental in creating the network (then called RCCN - Rede da Comunidade Científica Nacional and later renamed RCTS - Rede de Ciência, Tecnologia e Sociedade) that interconnected the main universities and research centers in Portugal and gave them access to the Internet.
#2 As part of the team that executed the project connecting Portugal to the Internet, what can you tell us about that time and experience?
Those were unforgettable times and experiences!
It all started in October 1987 when I was invited to join the IP Forum working group (later the Internet Protocol Working Group, IP-WG) at FCCN , whose aim was to create an IP network to interconnect universities in Portugal and give them access to the Internet.
At the same time, and on the recommendation of FCCN, I also started participating in the RARE association (Réseaux Associés pour la Recherche Européenne), a European organization of national research networks and their users whose main objective was to establish an academic and research network on a European scale, based on the OSI protocols.
I was thus directly involved in the war between the OSI and IP community which, at the time, had almost religious war aspects. In RARE (and in the European Community in general) nobody could talk about IP. The financing came from the COSINE Project - Cooperation for OSI in Europe - of the European program Eureka, which had as an objective the creation of an OSI network at the European scale.
In Portugal we followed a pragmatic approach of following the indications of the COSINE Project (the funding depended on it), developing, in parallel, an IP infrastructure. Fortunately the CISCO routers that appeared at the time supported both protocol stacks. So we had the two solutions (OSI and IP) working in parallel for some time, with the IP solution prevailing. From the OSI solution we still use today the Directory Services based on X500 and many other advanced features were migrated to the IP applications.
The University of Coimbra came to be connected to the Internet in 1990 through an IP over X.25 solution, and then, on January 29th, 1991, through a dedicated line with the astonishing capacity of 64 kb/s. This was clearly the most important thing I did for my university (in team with my colleagues Fernando Boavida and João Orvalho) and I am very proud of it!
#3 Over the next three decades, we saw an exponential evolution of the Internet and underlying technologies. Was this something you anticipated as the way forward in the early 1990s? Was it possible to predict its impact on society?
At the beginning, clearly, we didn't anticipate what was going to happen. It was just a network to exchange email, files and access news and discussion forums. With the appearance of Gopher (an ancestor of HTTP) and the first WWW browser (Mosaic) we began to have some awareness of what was going to happen and the revolution in which we were participating.
#4 Do you feel that the online world today fits globally into the goals and mission that you advocated in 1991?
The Internet revolution has radically and profoundly transformed society. It has brought innovation, development, information, knowledge, efficiency, fun at levels and in time scales unmatched by previous technological revolutions. It has had (and is having) a clearly positive impact on humanity and the planet. Now, like all inventions and innovations, there are less positive and even very negative aspects and uses, but that is not the fault of its creators