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December 9, 1996

Will too many users destroy the Internet? I hardly think so

My recent columns have stirred up a little debate. In my Nov. 4 column, I preannounced a product called Peak Net.Jet that downloads Web links from the current page you're viewing, saving you time when you switch to one of the links. On Dec. 2, I reported on an Internet fax machine being developed by Panasonic that receives faxes across the Internet, avoiding long-distance charges.

A few readers argued that software and hardware products such as these use up valuable Internet bandwidth that should be conserved.

I believe, in contrast, that inventions such as these are part of a natural evolution of the Internet. The fact that new software and hardware products use bandwidth to make the 'net easier to use will inevitably create more users, causing more demand that must be satisfied by increasing the robustness of the network to handle it.

I'd like to clarify some features of Peak Net.Jet. Some readers have mistaken this product for an "Internet robot." Robots are programs that cruise the 'net, usually overnight, downloading the entire contents of Internet sites. To defend against robots monopolizing a site, a "robot exclusion standard" has been developed so each site can specify areas not meant for downloading, such as binary archives. (For more information on robots, see

Far from being a robot, Peak Net.Jet downloads only one level down from the page a user is actively viewing. It downloads primarily text from those links, and no more than about 10KB of text from each link. After caching text in this way, Peak Net.Jet then looks for graphics, but it does not download graphics larger than 100KB.

The fact that there is a need for "look-ahead" products such as Peak Net.Jet is evidenced by the response that Peak Technologies experienced after my column. I wrote that a trial version of Peak Net.Jet would be available on a Web server soon, so "try this weekend."

It turned out that the final build wasn't ready by that Saturday, so Peak posted a message that it would send a notice to anyone who left an e-mail address. Peak received more than 2,500 addresses that Saturday alone. (The trial version is still available at

Peak Technologies is also on the forefront of developing software to maximize the efficiency of the Internet. Many sites use inefficient JPEG graphics files. Peak has developed a free viewer for "wavelet" files, which can be less than half the size of JPEG files of the same quality. (At the Peak site mentioned above, click Lightning Strike, then Download Now.)

If we didn't want people to use the Internet as they pleased, we shouldn't have allowed the release of Mosaic, the first software to make graphical browsing popular. But, of course, we couldn't stop such advances even if we tried.

I predict that exploding demand for Web access will cause bandwidth to begin obeying a kind of Moore's Law: Bandwidth will begin declining in price by half every 18 months.

Demand is growing, in part, because Internet access now costs $19.95 per month, more or less, with no extra cost no matter how much you download. According to the "tragedy of the commons," when a common resource is free (or perceived to be free), people will overuse it until the resource is depleted.

But network bandwidth isn't a grassy meadow that can be overgrazed. If fiber-optic cable can't meet the 'net's demands, there are cable TV systems, satellites, and other competitors to be heard from. (Read George Gilder's analysis of this at The only way bandwidth will fail to expand is if the government decides to "protect" the Baby Bells from bandwidth competition.

Brian Livingston is the co-author of Windows 95 Secrets Gold and four other Windows books (IDG Books). Send tips to or fax: (206) 282-1248.

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Copyright © 1996 by InfoWorld Publishing Company


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