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Knighthood for 'father of the Web'

Berners-Lee
Berners-Lee believed the Internet should be free for everyone.

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LONDON, England (CNN) -- The computer wizard dubbed the "father of the World Wide Web" is to receive a knighthood for services to the Internet.

Tim Berners-Lee invented the information superhighway known as the Web, which allows anyone with a computer and browser to use the Internet. Famously, he created it in his spare time, and gave it away for free.

The England rugby team and rock star Eric Clapton were among others named in the New Year's honors list on Wednesday. (Sports, music stars honored)

Berners-Lee is to become a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) on the diplomatic list for services to the global development of the Internet.

As a British citizen, Berners-Lee will be able to use the title "Sir Tim."

The modest, publicity-shy physicist, now 48 and based in the U.S., is at pains to point out that he did not invent the Internet itself and insists he is "quite an ordinary person."

But without his creation -- which spawned billions of web pages used by hundreds of millions of computer users -- there would be no www computer addresses and the Internet might still be the exclusive domain of a handful of computer experts.

Berners-Lee told the UK's Press Association: "I'm very honored, although it still feels strange.

"I feel like quite an ordinary person and so the good news is that it does happen to ordinary people who work on things that happen to work out, like the Web.

"To a certain extent it's an acknowledgement of the profession as well, that it's useful and creditable and not a passing trend.

"There was a time when people felt the Internet was another world, but now people realize it's a tool that we use in this world."

Berners-Lee was born in East Sheen, south west London, in 1955, the eldest child of two mathematicians renowned within the computer industry for their work on Britain's first commercial computer, the Ferranti Mark I.

Eric Clapton, CBE, was a better known honors recipient Wednesday.
Eric Clapton, CBE, was a better known honors recipient Wednesday.

He studied at the Emanuel School in Wandsworth and went on to read physics at Queen's College, Oxford, where he was banned from using the university's computer when he and a friend were caught hacking.

The student's response was to build his own computer, using an old TV set, a Motorola microprocessor and a soldering iron, all funded by his job in a sawmill.

After graduating with a first-class degree in 1976, he spent several years in Dorset, working for Plessey Telecommunications in Poole, southern England, and D.G. Nash Ltd in nearby Ferndown before heading for Switzerland.

He wrote the program which would later become the Web for his own private use while working at the European particle physics laboratory, CERN, near Geneva in 1991.

It initially received a luke-warm reception -- one of his superiors wrote it was "vague but exciting" -- but Sir Tim went on to write the first Web browser and Web server, both of which he gave away on the Internet in 1991, and the Web was born.

While other Internet pioneers went on to become multi-millionaires, he insisted that his creation should be free and globally available, and has fought to ensure the Web was never privately owned.

He is now head of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston.

He married Nancy Carlson, an American software analyst, in 1990, and they have two children.

He was previously awarded an OBE and was hailed by Time magazine as one of the top 20 thinkers of the 20th Century.

He said: "It's a great honor. "It's a link to Britain for me, which is nice. Links with Britain are very important to me.

"You always see Buckingham Palace through the railings. It's about as much of a shock to go through the railings as it is to go through the mirror like Alice in Wonderland.

"You always assume that life as you know it stops at the railings of Buckingham Palace."

Berners-Lee said that living in America meant he was unaware of the recent controversy in Britain surrounding the system of awarding honors. (Poet in royal honor protest)

He said: "What's interesting about the British system is the way that modern values of democracy and transparency have been connected with ancient tradition, and attempts to keep that tradition and its roots alive.

"It's a good idea to review the process by which you make decisions but not to change them too dramatically, but incrementally."

Berners-Lee told PA he was notified of the honor a few days ago via the telephone, and not through the Internet or e-mail.

He added that it never occurred to him that his creation could lead to him receiving a knighthood.

He said: "We never really had time to sit back and wonder. So many things could have gone wrong that it might never have taken off, so we just spent all our time explaining how it could work, and persuading people that it would work."


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