The French Who Didn’t Invent the Internet, The Lost Date in the History of Computing

At the end of the 1960s, France invented a computer network called Cyclades which could have become the Internet. The Burgundian man, Louis Pouzin, was part of this great adventure. Unfortunately, the government at the time preferred to develop … Minitel!

It would have been one of the century’s finest French success stories.

One can say that the person who developed the Internet in parallel with the Americans is a Frenchman, that his name is Louis Pouzin and that he is from Nevers.
In 1971, this computer pioneer, along with other genius computer scientists such as Jean-Louis Grange and Michel Jean, were the principal architects of the Cyclades Project, one of the world’s first computer networks.

What is the Cyclades project?

In 1966 General de Gaulle launched Plan Calcul, a program aimed at creating an independent French computer industry.
At that time, Philip Renard, the account plan administrator and inventor of the word “software”, went to the United States where he visited high-end computer companies. In particular, he discovered the Arpanet, the first American computer network.
“It was a great experience for me and I was convinced that something had to be done in this area.”

In 1971, Project Cyclades was created within Plan Calcul in order to develop a network of French computers, one of the first in the world. The goal of this plan is very simple: since this market is dominated by Americans, Europe should have a computer industry worthy of this name.

At the time, Maurice Alleger, IT rep for Plan Calcul, made a statement on TV: “The computer industry in a few years will become the leading industry in the world…”

The Cyclades team consists of Louis Pouzin, President, Inspiration, and Designer.

Se joignent à lui Jean-Louis Grangé, responsable du réseau de commutation, Jean Le Bihan à l’organisation, Najah Naffah en charge des protocoles terminaux virtues et de la bureautique, Hubert Zimmerman en charge du protocole de communication et Michel Gien en charge des Operating systems.

Cyclades’ main innovation is the concept of datagrams, which is the basis of current Internet protocols.
In data transmission, this technical approach is completely different from those that existed so far. Computers inject and send packets into the central network information independently of each other, without worrying about the order of their arrival (because they are reassembled at the destination point). Then this packet switching is called a datagram.

This system was later adopted by Robert Kahn and Vinton Cerf to create a file The TCP/IP protocol that the Internet still runs on.

Network war or how Minitel took off the French Internet

In 1976, the Cyclades were at the height of their glory. Louis Posen is organizing a demonstration of the project at a conference in Toronto, Canada.

The idea was to move a knot in the Cyclades project and get an international connection… The demonstration took place and everything worked.

Michelle Jean, computer engineer, former member of the Cyclades Project

In his speech, Louis Posen explains in a clear and playful way the network war that was going to take place in the computer world between the approach of IBM and computer manufacturers on the one hand, that of Telecoms / PTT on the other hand, and in the middle, the approach of Cyclades / Internet / HarpaNet that was trying to make everything work together.

A confrontation on the technical level but above all the political level, the Cyclades come against the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications.
The forces that Louis Pouzin fights against are much stronger than him. Calcol’s plan initiated by General de Gaulle and with the support of his successor, President Georges Pompidou, was called into question when Valéry Giscard d’Estaing came to power.

The DGC wants to destroy the Cyclades, and it cannot admit that there is technology developing outside of it.

Pierre-Eric Meunier Cohn, historian of information technology CNRS/Sorbonne University

The French government decided to bring down the Cyclades. The credits are cut and the project is buried.
Instead, we are developing the Transpac network, which is a closed network, under state control. Then Transpac became the French national data transmission network. It is on this basis that Minitel appeared in the early 80’s.

The Internet is now the preserve of AmericansFrance was not able to take the work of the Cyclades engineers seriously.

What happened to these precursors of the Internet?

Besides joint work on the Cyclades project, true friendship binds these guys and the team did not miss seeing each other. The birthday of Louis Posen, who is celebrating his 90th birthday, is a chance for them to get together and have a good time together while discussing… the internet!

Despite their advanced age, the protagonists of the project are still very active and continue to promote their latest invention for a new, safer and more responsible network, like the one they created almost half a year ago. a century.
Luis Posen is participating in the RINA (Recursive Network Engineering) initiative, a new approach to network engineering with a more secure Internet than it is currently.

Thirty years ago, Louis Pouzin did not invent the Internet. Today, he participates in its re-establishment.

The French who did not invent the Internet, David Morandini movie
Co-production of France Télévisions / Khora Film / Ladybirds Films

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