Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Looking Back: The World Wide Web's First Web Browsers

Photo: The WordWideWeb browser.
Back in 1989 while working at CERN, Tim Burners-Lee proposed a project which was designed to allow people to work together and combine their knowledge in a web of hypertext documents. The first project was called Enquire, which is later to be known as the World Wide Web. A year later, he created the first web browser called WorldWideWeb (without spaces) which was later renamed to Nexus to prevent confusion with the the browser and the World Wide Web itself. He designed the WorldWideWeb browser as a WYSIWYG hypertext browser and editor.

WorldWideWeb (Released: December 23, 1990)
 - First web browser

Burners-Lee wrote the WorldWideWeb on a NeXT computer. Its features include:
  • Displaying basic stylesheets
  • Downloading and opening any file type supported by the NeXT system
  • Browsing newsgroups
  • Spellchecking
  • Protocols: FTP, HTTP, NNTP and local files
A screenshot of a later version but in grayscale:

However, the WorldWideWeb browser is only limited to run on NeXT computers, that's when Nicola Pellow created the Line Mode Browser or WWW, which can run on non-NeXT computers - from UNIX to Microsoft DOS.

The last stable release of the WorldWideWeb browser (0.18) was on January 14, 1994. The project was discontinued.

Line Mode Browser/ WWW (Released: May 14, 1991)
- First web browser that runs on many platforms.

The Line Mode Browser is operated from a single command line. Features:

  • Platform independent
  • Can be set up to a proxy client
  • Able to run in as a background process
  • Downloading files
  • Protocols: FTP, Gopher, HTTP, NNTP, WAIS are among others
The last stable release of the Line Mode Browser (5.4.1) was on December 4, 2006.

ViolaWWW (Released: March 9, 1992)
- First popular web browser
- First browser to use authoring technologies

ViolaWWW is developed for UNIX and X Window System. It is the first browser to have the following features:
  • client-side document insertion, predating frames, or syndication via javascript output writing
  • a simple stylesheet mechanism used for inserting style information such as fonts, color and alignments into a document
  • a sidebar panel used for displaying "meta" information and intra document navigational links
  • a scripting language that can be accessed from an HTML document

Erwise (Released: April 1992)
- First web browser with a GUI (graphical user interface)

Erwise was developed by four Finnish students at Helsinki Institute of Technology: Kim Nyberg, Teemu Rantanen, Kati Suominen, and Kari Sydänmaanlakka, and was written for UNIX computers. The project was discontinued after they graduated which made Berners-Lee to travel to Finland to encourage them to continue. However, they could not afford to continue the project. Berners-Lee would have continued the project if it never was that the codes were mostly in Finnish.

MacWWW (Released: December 1992)
- First web browser for the Mac OS platform

MacWWW or Samba was a brower with minimalistic structure. Features:
  • it is implemented in THINK C using its human interface objects
  • it uses much code in common with the Line Mode browser, which later became libwww
  • the THINK C text object was modified to allow multifont capability
  • it allows anchors to be encoded in the styles.
The project was discontinued with its last stable release 1.03.

Mosaic (Released: April 22, 1993)
- First web browser that popularizes the World Wide Web
- First browser to display images inline with text

Mosaic is the first web browser that went mainstream. It was developed by Eric Bina and Marc Andreessen from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. By 1994, it had a user base of several million users world wide. Its features like icons and bookmarks made the browser attractive and easy to use even to non-geeks. It contributed to the popularity of the Internet and is one of the killer applications back in 1990s.

Cello (Released: June 8, 1993)
- First web browser for Microsoft Windows

Cello was created because the browsers back then were only available on UNIX systems. Since many lawyers those times have Microsoft Windows on their computers, many legal experts were unable to gather legal information from the World Wide Web. The development was continued due to the sudden boom of more popular browsers like Mosaic and Netscape.

W3.org - WorldWideWeb | Short History | Tim Berners-Lee Overview & Longer Biography | LineMode
Viola.org | NCSA - Mosaic 
Wikipedia - Tim Berners-Lee | WorldWideWeb | Line Mode Browser | ViolaWWW | Erwise | MacWWW | Mosaic | Cello

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