Mike Wells and the JANET April Fool

I was up in Leeds on Friday, helping to celebrate 50 years of computing at my old university. The keynote speech was delivered by Dr. Andrew Herbert, a Leeds alumnus (1975), and now Director of Microsoft Research in Cambridge (UK). He mentioned one of his lecturers, Mike Wells, and his views on networks. Back in the early 1970s Mike was adamant that stand-alone computers would not be stand-alone for much longer. Apparently, during one of his lectures, Dr Wells had revealed: “there’s this thing called ARPANET in the United States which could be interesting”. ARPANET was, of course, the forerunner of the Internet.

In another of Friday’s talks, Dave Holdsworth, an ex-member of staff, gave a talk on the history of computing at the university. He mentioned that by the mid seventies a diverse and pretty incoherent collection of networks had sprung up between self-selecting groups of universities and research agencies. In 1975, Professor Wells was instrumental in producing what has become known as the Well’s Report which led to the creation of the JANET (Joint Academic NETwork). This backbone network successfully linked the growing jumble of university inter-networks into one powerful national system. This was pioneering work in those days, and, as I have already outlined in an earlier blog entry about Tom Loosemore, provided a skeleton for the vision of the later development of the public Internet in the UK.

Professor Mike Wells was therefore not only a lecturer with an early grip on the importance of linking computers together, but was also a leading figure both in the university computing service and on the national networking scene. As the JANET was formally launched 23 years ago, on 1st April 1984, it also seems fair to say that he probably also had a rather wry sense of humour.


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