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Network Basics

The key to the computer revolution of the 1980s was the invention of the microprocessor in the 1970s. This gave rise to the cheap computers which have become ubiquitous in homes, schools and offices, and to the embedded computers which serve as controllers inside cameras, cars, washing machines and so on. The computer revolution of the late 1990s, now continuing int the 21st century, involves computer networks, whose existence is enriching our society in countless different ways.

A simplified but worthwhile description of the uses of computer networks might be as follows:
  • Sharing of hardware: For example, several PCs might be networked together in a wired or wireless local area network (LAN) to share a printer.
  • Sharing of information: Distributed databases, e-mail, the World Wide Web and so on are examples of this. Here the sharing involves both LANs and wide area networks (WANs), especially the latter.

Networks touch upon virtually every aspect of computing today. A good working knowledge (i.e. not of the “partial credit on an extra problem” type) is of enormous value. It should be noted carefully that it is important to know both the software and non-software aspects of networks—the latter meaning the hardware, the protocols,1 the quantitative performance issues and so on. If you interview for a job involving networks, you can expect that at least half of the questions will be on the non-software aspects, even if the job itself deals mainly with software. Moreover, many jobs you might interview for might be as system administrators; in such positions, knowing the physical structure of networks is just as important as knowing how the network software works.

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