More Than Just BROWSING

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Type the words "credit union" into Google and you will get more than 2.1 million potential matches. Use that same sentence 10 years ago, and you wouldn't have found 2.1 people who even knew what you were talking about.

All of that began to change 10 years ago with another new word that would quickly enter the lexicon, "browser," and the public release of "Mosaic." This year marks the 10th anniversary of Mosaic, the first web browser that was accessible to the public. Though there were precursors to Mosaic, such as BITNET, USERNET and ARPANET, it was Mosaic that first brought this thing called the Internet, which had previously been inhabited only by the high end of academia and the military, into the public domain. In short order, browsers would change the world, including the ways credit unions do business and the face of the market in which they compete.

When The Credit Union Journal decided to pay tribute to Mosaic's 10th birthday, where else would it turn to for the historical data and research, but the Internet itself. The following History of the Browser is a compilation of information from a variety of websites.

As www.dejavu.org put it, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was ascii encoded, typically displayed in monochrome courier on a black screen." But that was even before Mosaic's time, though not by much. The dejavu.org site features a timeline of the history of the Internet as well as a series of "emulators" that allow a user to view today's Internet using yesterday's technology to get a feeling for how far the web has come in just about a decade's time.

The Guy Who Started It

The web browser as we know it could not have come about had it not been for Tim Berners-Lee, an Englishman working in a physics research lab on the border between France and Switzerland. He called his project the World Wide Web.

Not long after Berners-Lee was able to demonstrate his information management software that used hypertext (the http in web addresses), some were quick to recognize the potential of the www project, including a student at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, Marc Andreesen, who introduced X Mosaic to the still-small world making use of the Internet in 1993 in a posting describing the software on a variety of web bulletin boards.

Featuring a user-friendly hypertext-based interface to "a wide variety of information resources," Mosaic would make it possible for people who didn't live in the academic ivory tower to access the Internet.

Of course, it wouldn't be until after the beta release that Mosaic would be able to handle the more dynamic elements such as GIFs, JPGs, audio files and MPEGs, but the NCSA was already working to create a solution that would support all of those things.

"Mosaic really did revolutionize the Internet," said Par Lannero, one of the creators of the dejavu.org site's ode to the history of the Information Superhighway. "In fact, most of the newcomers believed that Mosaic was the Internet."

In June of 1993, on the heels of a conference entitled "Mosaic and the Web," Digital Equipment Corporation put up the first commercial website. By September 1993, NCSA would release working versions of the Mosaic browser for all common platforms of the day: X, PC/Windows and Macintosh.

Plenty of Competitors

Mosaic was hardly alone. Cello, Viola, IBM WebExplorer, SlipKnot and Amaya were all in the hunt, too. But it was Mosaic that really brought the Internet alive for the early-adopting public, in part because the introduction of the software known as Mosaic brought about the creation of a company called Mosaic Communications Corp. in March of 1994, made up of Andreesen and some of his NSCA colleagues.

Founded with private funding, the new firm quickly released an improved version of Mosaic and dubbed it Mosaic Netscape, which included such features as layout control and the ability to open multiple concurrent TCP connections, which substantially reduced the time spent downloading information-particularly important when the vast majority of Internet connections were dial-up phone connections.

In what would become the typical rollout for many in an industry that would be categorized as another brand-new word, dot.com, the makers of Netscape literally gave away its browser to teachers, students and researchers, according the firm astronomical market share of 80% and even higher in its heyday. In 1995 the company would embody the euphoria of the dot.com craze when its initial public offering made millionaires of its founders.

Others noticed, including a certain Bellevue, Wash.-based company. When Windows 95 was released, it included Microsoft's Microsoft Network (MSN). The dejavu.org site's description of MSN highlights just how quickly history in the Internet world becomes downright antiquated. "(Microsoft' didn't really understand the significance of the Internet, but thought that there would be several parallel online worlds.the Microsoft Network never really took off," the site, which was created in 1998 reads. But a note added on Aug. 18, 2000 indicates "there is a new MSN client under development," and indeed, today MSN's "butterfly" commercials are ubiquitous on television.

Having all but dropped the Mosaic name, Netscape's second generation browser came on the scene in fall of 1995, featuring HTML 3.0 and the first versions of Java support, JavaScript (then called LiveScript) and secured socket layer encryption technology.

With these advancements, the progeny of Mosaic, now called Netscape Navigator, became dominant.

It was during Netscape's domination of the web marketplace, on Feb. 8, 1996, that the web "went black" as a protest of a law proposed in the U.S. called the Communications Decency Act, which would have "cleaned up cyberspace" by imposing regulation of what was posted on the Internet. Web pioneers considered this an attack on free speech and fought to kill the bill before it could become law.

If Microsoft was the sleeping giant of the Internet in the early days of the web, its update to Internet Explorer 3 was the great awakening. As one of the few serious competitors for Netscape Navigator, Microsoft took a page from Netscape's handbook and gave away Explorer for free.

Microsoft's update took center stage because the improvement from its Explorer 2 was substantial, while the difference between Netscape 2 and 3 was more subtle. Moreover, with this update, Microsoft played a serious game of catch-up with its competition, implementing many of the features showcased in Netscape 3.

The Emerging Problem

There was just one problem: there weren't any significant standards in place that would facilitate sharing, and while competitors aren't always required to share, the very essence of the Internet was shared communication.

Enter The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). W3C was actually established serveal years earlier, but the need for an organization that would try to bring about standardization and interoperability came to a head as Netscape and MSN continued to do battle.

Of course, while the browser giants continued to squabble for marketshare-and to create the "killer app" for the web-a variety of new technologies to bring ever more of the public into the Internet arena were unveiled, including WebTV, and Pointcast.

With the advent of Pointcast, fouth-generation browsers turned to channels, which called for users to subscribe to receive regular downloads of material, which meant people could now browse much of the web while offline-a key feature for home users relying on relatively slow, dial-up service.

Fourth-generation browsers also featured Dynamic HTML, revolutionizing web design and the way users "experienced" the web. The problem was, the two major browsers didn't support DHTML the same way, forcing web designers to create two separate sites that could interface with one or the other. Eventually, XML was created to remove the burden of having to create multiple websites.

Microsoft's Next Move

It was about this time that Microsoft integrated its Internet Explorer 4 with Windows Explorer and the desktop, creating an "active desktop" that could "behave like a web page."

This integration of technologies lead Netscape to file suit against Microsoft, claiming its competitor was taking illegal advantage of its massive market share in desktop operating systems. Netscape wasn't the first to take a close look at how Microsoft did business. The FTC opened an antitrust investigation of Microsoft as early as 1990, before either Mosaic or Netscape even existed.

What started out as Mosaic, then Mosaic Netscape, then Netscape Navigator emerged in the fifth generation as Netscape Communicator, released on Jan. 23, 1998. One month later, the Mozilla project was launched. As a "follow-on" to Netscape's decision to make Communicator 5.0 source code available for free, Mozilla was established by Netscape to be a central point of contact for developers interested in modifying and redistributing Netscape client source.

At the time of the Mozilla announcement, one open-source developer, Eric Raymond, hailed Netscape as "the first major company to exploit the power of the open source strategy. Making their client software source code free to developers is a bold move that will do great things for their products."

Today, people wanting to surf the web have a lot of choices, including such wireless options as web-enabled cell phones and PDAs. It may be difficult for some to remember a time-not even a decade ago-when people thought Mosaic actually was the Internet. Today's it's the granddaddy of web browsers-at the ripe old age of 10.

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