Bob Frankston: No more monkeys jumping on the bed

Bob Frankston: No more monkeys jumping on the bed

Summary: Bob Frankston, the guy who co-invented the electronic spreadsheet and who spearheaded Microsoft's original home network strategies, routinely rants about allowing intelligence into the middle of the Internet. To paraphrase his many essays, "things were working fine when nodes could just talk to each other without a monkey in the middle getting in the way to screw things up.

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Bob Frankston, the guy who co-invented the electronic spreadsheet and who spearheaded Microsoft's original home network strategies, routinely rants about allowing intelligence into the middle of the Internet. To paraphrase his many essays, "things were working fine when nodes could just talk to each other without a monkey in the middle getting in the way to screw things up."  Yet, over time, the industry has been unable to resist the temptation to breed such monkeys.

Using a recent air disaster as a metaphor, under the headline The Internet as a Design Principle, Frankston wrote:

People tend to think of the Internet in terms of the Web but the real importance is in the basic End-to-End philosophy. You build applications at the edge of the network and don't make unnecessary assumptions about what's in the middle....

...According to the article "A police official who has interviewed the American crew said that, in the last known voice communication with the Legacy, the pilots had been told to switch radio frequencies as they entered the jurisdiction of a different air traffic control center. But the official said they had misheard the frequency and failed to tune their radio correctly."...

...The idea of changing frequencies makes me think of old movies with pilots looking at the stars to find their position. Even if we are using primitive frequency based systems how come there isn't some monitoring to assure there is a functional communications path.

I've focused only on fairly simple aspects of these systems and the stories may not be accurate. Given an IP connection one can do far more than send a simple alarm signal....Why would anyone with a modicum of understanding of security rely on open loop signaling? Why would those responsible for the lives of airline passengers (and pilots) omit a simple safety check like assuring there is a signal path?...

...The basic end-to-end principle of the Internet allows us to design (relatively) reliable systems using unreliable components. By assuming the transport is unreliable we get a more reliable systems design by dealing with failures are common occurrences so we get practice in dealing with theme....

....The Internet is not the Web, that's just an implication. The Internet is a demonstration of the power of resilient design and the power of verifying rather than simply trusting the behavior of others.

I called Bob to see if I was correct in distilling his position to one that eschews intelligence in between end points and his response was that he's not entirely against the idea, "it's just that it's sort of like the concept of intelligent design: there's no single way to do it."  Therein lies the rub. Once you end up with multiple incompatible approaches, you end up with the sort of stovepiping of the Internet that we see happening today.  So, the monkeys in the middle (emphasis on plural) are messing things up and what do you do when the system is perfectly capable of working without the monkeys as it designers originally conceived in the first place?

When you talk to Bob, he tells you that he's busy fixing the Internet. Sounds like a big job. Another Bob -- Robert Kahn -- one of the guys that helped to invent it recently talked about how he's doing something similar. Said Kahn in my video interview of him:

What I've been spending most of my time on lately is trying to reinvent the Internet around managing content so that people can feel more comfortable about trusting their information with the Internet.

Perhaps the Bobs should spend some time together. 

Topic: Browser

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