Happy birthday, Mosaic: 20 years of the graphical web browser

Happy birthday, Mosaic: 20 years of the graphical web browser

Summary: The web as we know it got its start 20 years ago, when Mosaic, the first popular web browser, arrived.

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TOPICS: Browser, Networking
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We take the web for granted today. But 20 years ago, the "WEB" was a mystery that only techie geeks knew about. Then along came the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Mosaic, the first popular graphical web browser, and everything changed.

Mosaic
Say hello to Mosaic, the first popular graphical web browser.

Today, you turn on any device, and two seconds later, you're on the web. Before Mosaic, people who had access to the internet — if they were lucky, on V.32bis's speedy 28.8Kbps — used relatively difficult-to-use character-based interface programs, such as Lynx and WWW. Mosaic changed all that.

Say hello to the early days of web browsers

Mosaic, the creation of Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina, wasn't the first graphical web browser. That honor goes to ViolaWWW. This browser, however, only worked on Unix workstations using the X Windows System. Cello was the first graphical web browser for Windows. Be that as it may, no one argues that Mosaic was the first truly popular web browser.

That's not to say that Mosaic was easy to use. It wasn't. In the early to mid 1990s, simply getting on the internet was still something of a black art. Windows, for example, didn't natively support the internet's fundamental protocol, TCP/IP, until Windows 95 appeared. If you wanted TCP/IP on Windows before that, you needed to use the arcane but absolutely vital Trumpet Winsocket program, and find an internet service provider (ISP).

It was worth it, though. In those early days, people were frantic to get on the web, and Mosaic, a freeware browser, was far more often than not the first browser they'd use. Andreessen and Bina, no fools they, saw the business possibilities on the web and took the Mosaic code base. In October 1994, they turned it into the first successful commercial web browser: Netscape.

Microsoft, which had been slow off the mark to realize how important the internet and the web would be, also used the Mosaic code base, via a company called Spyglass, to make the first version of Internet Explorer (IE). IE 1.0 was released in as an add-on to Windows 95 in the Microsoft Plus package in August 1995.

So it was that by the mid '90s, Mosaic had become the most popular web browser of the early internet years. Indeed, even now, while the program itself is an anachronism, you can still see how its basic design decisions have strongly improved today's web browsers such as Firefox, its most direct descendant, Chrome, and IE.

It may have been 20 years since Mosaic has been released, but we're still seeing its influence today.

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36 comments
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  • What about WorldWideWeb available 1.5 years before ViolaWWW?

    Just wondering why you left the first GUI based web browser out.
    Bruizer
  • I used Mosaic first time autumn 1994...

    ...and first chat with Aussies during the same period. Oh those glory, glory days....
    MacBroderick
    • Summer of 1996 for me

      Used Mosaic on a Sun SPARC workstation.

      P.S. They are no more as Oracle ceased their production shortly after the Sun acquisition.
      Rabid Howler Monkey
    • I think it was 1996 in my case

      I compiled Mosaic on my employer's DEC 3000, running what was then called "Digital UNIX".
      John L. Ries
  • I guess the internet was a kind of shock for Bill Gates

    because he knew that their operation system was never really made for network computing.
    MacBroderick
    • Has situation changed so much?

      Because after all Windows is just a stand-alone computer OS.
      Frankie1965
    • Well, NT...

      Well, NT certainly was. And Windows For Workgroups was pretty good at it. MS wasn't alone in underestimating the Internet. Truth is that at the beginning online services like AOL and CompuServe were superior in all aspects (yes, way superior) and it took them a long time to plug their users into the Internet. They ALL underestimated the power of free p0rn.
      cmoya
      • WfW

        Well, Windows for Workgroups had some rudimentary TCP/IP stack, but for anything serious, you needed add-on software like what Beam & Whiteside provided -- for true networking. Or one of the shareware Winsock implementations.

        It was only Windows 95 that brought some usable on Internet networking from Microsoft. I do remember the times when Microsoft pledged us to help them with testing the stuff.
        danbi
        • Was your Winsock 16 or 32?

          Certain third parties would install a Winsock that would fry the users connectivity in Windows 95 or 98
          dcsos
  • Lynx was "relatively difficult"?

    If it were sufficient for the task at hand (which unfortunately, it isn't today), I would gladly trade using/supporting Internet Explorer (or at least all of them up through about IE7) for Lynx/Links.

    I used Lynx back in the day. At the time I think I preferred Gopher because hyperlinking seemed too anarchic and random. But I was recently informed about Links and it has made my world a better place; it lets me check server functionality from the CLI faster and more efficiently than using wget or curl.

    At any rate -- the problem with Lynx wasn't that it was hard, just that it was limited to a very small (nongraphical/nonscripted) subset of what we today consider "the Web." Mosaic was great not because it made the Web "easier" but because it facilitated a whole new paradigm of website design and consumption.

    It's not like we're talking about vi or emacs here... those are "hard." Lynx is/was a breeze to use.
    texasyojimbo
    • Ah... EMACS!

      Used it as a word processor in college running on a DEC System 20 with a PDP-11 Frontend as there were no real word processors yet!
      Thomas Kolakowski
      • Still use it

        It's my main text editor on the UNIX side.
        John L. Ries
        • vi is for men

          Only girls use emacs ! tee hee hee
          Burger Meister
          • Re: Only girls use emacs !

            You say that like it's a bad thing...
            ldo17
        • I still use it too

          It's my main text editor on the Windows side.
          Badge3832
    • Linux Not Suficient for Task at Hand? R. U. Off your rocker??? lol...

      Linux is the most diverse and copacetic Operating Systems ever devised by man. By 1995 it was already sunning on 1000's of computers Worldwide. By 2000 about every company had fooled around with running huge networks on Linux OS Servers. Then in 2003 the first Linux HPC Clusters were born and Cray was one of those that Linux would never run any Supercomputers. By 2010 Linux OS was running over 80% of the Top 100 Supercomputers in the World!

      Right now Linux OS powers most of the Automobile and Aircraft Industry internal systems. It runs well over 80% of all Mobile Phones and you say it's still not ready for performing the task at hand? What a crock no sense in asking what gives you such a right to condemn a OS that's not only the basis of the Pentagon and NSA's new Secure Hypertunneled Network, but has been hardened into the most secure OS out today. With the NSA own Security Enhanced (SE) written kernel. Now even Jelly Bean Android devices are all far more secure than any other mobile OS out for general consumption today. And even Linux had the capability to use Lynx in 1994.

      Now as for plain language editors, they go back at least to 1970's. Word Perfect was one of them. That program was originally developed under contract at Brigham Young University for use on a Data General minicomputer in 1979. That's what your buddy below your comment doesn't have a clue either. I was online playing Dungeon and Dragons games in the 80's. I was using Mosaic the moment it first launched. By 1995 I had a BeBox dual booting Linux and in Linux I could run Midnight Commander and even edit OS files or use to CLI WGET directories and VI as my text editor. Which was only one of dozens available even back then.

      In BeOS we had NetPositive graphical browser built into the OS. It had superior speed and multimedia capabilities over other browsers of the day. Then around 1997 the very basis of Webkit browsers was born on Linux in KDE Konqueror Browser (named after competitors Navigator and Explorer it up'd the anti on browser features in 1998)! ....and that's what you call "not being ready for the task at hand"?

      Now this August.... the once puny Linux Kernel OS, on Android Linux Mobile OS, will be activated on over 1 Billion Smartphones alone. Next year Linux will become the most useful and popular OS on the planet by, because of Android alone in Military Use, Google Web Conglomeration of Tools and Servers, Supercomputers, Aircraft Navigation, the OS that runs your automobiles and landed on Mars!!! ;-P .........OPEN SOURCE WITH OPEN CHOICE.... is always your Free and Best Answer!
      KronJohn
  • Thank Microsoft for the ubiquity of the Internet

    If it wasn't for Windows 95 and the affordability of the Windows based PC's with its ease of the use with setting up an Internet connection, many to this day would not have Internet access. It would only be available to select few with their $9,000 Macintosh. Don't even mention Linux. since that was just a non starter back in 95. Thank Windows for where we are today affordable computing and Internet access for the masses.
    adacosta38
    • I think someone "cut off your air supply."

      Always someone trying to rewrite history. Here's a little history for you.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steven_McGeady

      Also, notice how Microsoft likes to lie, cheat and steal.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embrace,_extend,_and_extinguish
      Arm A. Geddon
    • Thank IBM PC clone manufacturers

      Microsoft has NEVER made computers. And no one pays several thousand dollars for a microcomputer OS. Macs are expensive because they are targeted at a niche market.

      What made PCs affordable was the fact that they were clones of the original IBM PC; most people could NOT afford an actual IBM machine. SO, THANK PC CLONE MANUFACTURERS.

      As for DOS: it, too, was a clone - of Gary Kildall's OS, CP/M. Kildall was a professor of computer science, far smarter - and far more pleasant! - than Bill Gates, a man who has NEVER written an OS in his life, or, for that matter, any program worthy of note.

      To cut a long story very short, IBM ended up selling CP/M alongside its clone (DOS), but priced it at $240 to kill it.

      Kildall's firm, Digital Research, later produced GEM, and that's what we would have had had IBM & Gates not stolen the market away from Kildall.

      Search YouTube for "(1985) Computer Chronicles introduces the Macintosh" - move slider to 14:23 and you'll see GEM - the guy introducing it is Gary Kildall.

      For a documentary on Kildall, search YouTube for "Computer Chronicles: Gary Kildall special (Part 1 of 2)".

      GEM was considered far superior to WindoZzzze 1.
      Mike00000
      • Re: GEM

        Yep, GEM was a brilliant piece of software!

        At the end, all blame goes to IBM, for they have created both of today's monsters, Intel and Microsoft -- in an attempt to fuel their PC war with Apple. To their dismay, Apple somehow survived.

        It's only ironic today, that Microsoft blames the OEMs for their own failures. The very OEMs who made their empire ever possible... Pathetic.
        danbi