With the world starting to buzz about the concept of ‘Cloud’ computing, we here in MHA’s geek cave figured it would be a good idea to go through a short history of some popular services that were cloud based, before cloud was cloud.
Before we start I am going to use the Dictionary definition of
"Internet-based computing in which large groups of remote
servers are networked so as to allow sharing of data-processing
tasks, centralised data storage, and online access to computer
services or resources."
With that definition in mind, one of the first cloud services
Back in the dark days before the internet (that's right - we are
going back to the internet progenitor - the ARPAnet), email was one
of the first used services. Since data transmission rates
were so low, transmitting a stream of text only messages was really
the only viable use. This was the beginning of email - email was in
fact one of the driving forces that turned the ARPAnet (mainly used
by Universities, Government/Military applications and some large
corporations) into the internet (the fully globalised entity that
it is today).
The advantage of email was easy to spot - almost instant text based
communication between 2 parties that could be separated by some
distance. Early email however was not mobile in the sense that
email is today. Generally you had to be connected to a
mainframe at an organisation that had access to the ARPAnet.
Later on it was connected to a Server at a work that had internet
access, and in the early 90's POP based email from an ISP. All
these technologies had one limiting factor - you had to be on
either a specific machine or at a specific location to access your
email or to look at past email.
So this was the way of things until 4th July 1996 when Hotmail was
first launched. The date was chosen as it had significance as
American Independence Day - a tongue in cheek reference to
liberating users from the limitations of all previous email
configurations as mentioned above. The concept was simple - a web
based portal that allowed a user to login and access their email
from anywhere in the world, simply by navigating to the URL
hotmail.com. Initially the mailbox size was limited to 2 Mb, which
although seems tiny by today's standards, since almost all email
was text based without fancy graphics, this was adequate.
Such was the impact in the internet of Hotmail that search engine
heavyweight Yahoo released their own version, Yahoo!Mail, in
1997. This was around the time that Hotmail received a large
input from an Investment company, and at the end of the year - was
bought by Microsoft for $400 million.
There were some various ups and downs with Hotmail from 1997
onwards. As with all things web based there were various
security scares - including one dubbed 'the most widespread
security incident in the history of the Web" (this was a reference
to a loop hole that allowed anyone to login to any other Hotmail
account with a password of 'eh'). But things stayed relatively the
same for Hotmail and Yahoo!mail during this time. Very few
improvements were made and neither provider added new
It was on April Fool's Day (a date significant in parts of IT
culture) that a rather large gauntlet was thrown at both Hotmail
and Yahoo!mail who had rested on their laurels for too long. Google
launched Gmail. At the time Google had already crushed Yahoo! in
the search engine stakes (this is despite Yahoo being declared the
winner of the search engine wars in the late 90's and most IT
experts believed that Yahoo's position in the market was
unassailable). Google was proving once again that it was the super
heavyweight in the internet world and they could produce a better
product than their rivals. Starting with the storage space - Gmail
offered 1 Gb of storage whereas their competition were offering 2
Mb and 4 Mb mailbox sizes.
Hotmail still holds the lead in number of users, although it has
been rebranded to Windows Live as a part of Microsoft's services.
Although it is slowly being forgotten as Hotmail - it will still
hold its place in internet history as one of the first and
pioneering cloud based services.