These things have staying power
By John “jaQ” Andrews firstname.lastname@example.org
As the Hippo celebrates its tenth year of publication, I thought I'd take a look back at some technologies that have aged just as gracefully. While the lifecycle of hardware is unrelentingly short, software standards and communications protocols set up decades ago are still serving us well today.
• POP Mail: The Post Office Protocol is a method for computers to receive e-mail from the Internet. Most internet service providers give each customer at least one e-mail address, and POP is the most common way users retrieve those messages. If you use Micrsoft Outlook or Outlook Express, Mozilla Thunderbird or Eudora at home, you're probably using POP mail.
The first version of POP appeared in 1984, followed the next year by POP2, which allowed the downloading of only new messages, instead of your whole inbox. The version we use now, POP3, was first proposed in 1988 and went through only minor revisions until it was finalized in 1996.
POP is so widely used because it is simple to set up and offers just the options users need for downloading mail; message management, folders and the like are all handled on the client computer. Downloaded messages are stored on your PC, so they can be read even if you're not online, and the option to leave messages on the server still lets you access mail on another machine.
• JPEG: The acronym stands for Joint Photographics Experts Group, the group that came up with this compression standard for images. Most photographs posted online, mailed to family members or stored on your very own computer are in this venerable format. There's even a JPEG 2000 with slightly better compression, but the original version is still much more common.
It was first codified in 1992, with a few extensions added in the years since. Its main purpose has always been to reduce the file size of images while keeping their visual quality largely intact. Since it's a lossy compression, however, some degradation of the picture does occur, and the smaller the file, the worse your image will look.
Zoom in real close on a JPEG image and you might notice blocks of 8x8 or 16x16 pixels. That's the JPEG algorithm splitting the image up to process smaller bits of it at a time.
• Ethernet: Although the current consumer state of the art is 1000BaseT, which transmits data over a network at one gigabit per second, slower versions 100BaseTX and 10BaseT are still in use where higher speeds aren't necessary. 1000BaseT came into being in 1999, but the beginnings of Ethernet networking were in the mid-1970s. As personal computers were just starting to make their way out of labs and into businesses, a way to connect them was necessary.
It wasn't the only networking standard out there, but its relative simplicity and ability to integrate with existing wiring made it a winner. 10BaseT came along in 1990, and 100BaseTX in 1995. The same cabling â€” four twisted pairs of copper wires â€” can carry all three types of signal.
Even as the world gets more wireless, Ethernet continues to leapfrog wireless speeds and be inherently more secure.
The common threads among these long-lasting technologies are their simplicity and adaptability. Because they were adopted early on, they became widespread de facto standards.