The worldwide web at 25: business' window on the world

What are businesses making of an invention many CIOs dismissed as a gimmick?

Inside the Enterprise: When Tim Berners-Lee put forward the first proposals for the worldwide web, or W3, 25 years ago, it was easy to dismiss the work as an esoteric research project.

The idea of using hypertext to link documents together was not even altogether new: Apple, for example, had an application, Hypercard, which it shipped on its -- at that time beige -- Macs. But the idea of putting hypertext links into documents, and putting those documents onto the internet, was new. Even Berners-Lee (now Sir Tim) could not have predicted how the web would turn out.

Web access has become more liberalised, perhaps because of the way the web has been integrated into business applications and increasingly, the devices we use to do our work.

Since then, the web has cut through vast areas of modern life, and there is no way to turn back the clock. Indeed, such is the impact of the web that it's hard to envisage life without it. In many ways, it feels as if it has been around forever, not just two and a half decades.

For enterprises, though, the changes brought by the web, and the internet more broadly, have been resisted as often as they have been embraced. This raises some questions about the way businesses approach technology.

In the early 1990s, some, perhaps even most, IT directors resisted giving staff access to the web.

There was plenty of discussion about whether web browsing had any business use at all. Vendors produced software to restrict web access to so many hours or the day, or just to lunchtimes and breaks, so employees could go online in their "personal" time. Equally, companies restricted or blocked access to other internet-based applications, especially email.

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