Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Web

Only time for a short one. But then I'm always terse and laconic in my taciturn way.

I first discovered the world wide web in 1995. Prior to that, my use of the internet had been primarily for email to the university faculty I worked with or logging into AOL, which was a graphical experience, but highly proprietary.

But then I got my new laptop with OS/2 Warp installed. Warp had an excellent browser installed that predated Internet Explorer and was a sibling to the Netscape browser with identical lineage back to the Mosaic browser developed by the University of Illinois. It was called the IBM WebExplorer and debuted in 1994 with OS/2 Warp (v3), it was hailed as the best browser by Internet Magazine in their November issue and leveraged its position as the only native browser in OS/2 at that time.

It was based on the Mosaic web browser and was referenced in "The HTML Sourcebook: The Complete Guide to HTML," a very important early resource for web developers. Almost immediately after the introduction of OS/2 Warp version 3, IBM dismantled the development team and that relegated the WebExplorer to the annals of history. Another dumb IBM move. Seems like they never really "got it."

IBM WebExplorer, at that time, was the browser application to beat. OS/2 Warp 4, released in 1996, included it, but also included a link to download an OS/2 version of Netscape Navigator 2.02, which was too late to  ship on the OS CD. IBM had already planned the substitution of WebExplorer. Surprised by the success of WebExplorer, IBM reformed the development team, but I think it did not have the spark of the original developers. Netscape caught the traction, and later the notice of Microsoft, leading to the "browser wars" of the late nineties, initially won by MS, but now -- not so certain -- as IE market share drops despite MS rediscovery of its importance. Maybe they let the IE team go too. They've acted a lot more like IBM in recent times.

The intellectual root of both WebExplorer and Netscape, Mosaic, is the web browser most often credited with popularizing the World Wide Web. It was also a client for earlier protocols such as FTP, NNTP, and gopher associated with the University of Wisconsin. Mosaic's clean, easily understood user interface, reliability, Windows port and simple installation all contributed to making it the application that opened up the Web to the general public. Mosaic was also the first browser to display images inline with text instead of displaying images in a separate window. While often described as the first graphical web browser, Mosaic was preceded by the lesser-known Erwise and ViolaWWW.

Mosaic was developed at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign beginning in late 1992. NCSA released the browser in 1993, and officially discontinued development and support on January 7, 1997. However, it can still be downloaded from NCSA.

Fifteen years after Mosaic's introduction, the most popular contemporary browsers, Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Google Chrome, retain many of the characteristics of the original Mosaic graphical user interface (GUI) and interactive experience.

Netscape Navigator was later developed by James H. Clark and many of the original Mosaic authors; however, it intentionally shared no code with Mosaic. Netscape Navigator's code descendant is Mozilla.

Of course, the secret to surfing the web was and is search engines. In those days we all used AltaVista and what a magic tool it seemed. It appeared that all of man's knowledge was laid out there in the Internet just waiting for the exploring mind to discover.

On one of my trips to San Jose, I recall visiting  AltaVista’s offices in Palo Alto, Calif., in 1995. I was impressed to see that the then-popular search engine had indexed 16 million Web pages on a set of machines that were the size of two large Coke machines. You could actually wrap your arms around the Web.

My how it has changed. Now I use the Internet every day to buy and sell and check on bills and statements and financial dealings. I even use it for publishing these "notes." So much as changed in the fifteen years I've been watching. How much more will it change in the next fifteen?

See, terse ... laconic ... breviloquent ... succinct. What more could you ask for?

(In the interest of brevity, I held back on all my opinions about OS/2 and Windows 95 and the great opportunity that IBM passed by with all the sharing of technology and experience with Microsoft on OS/2 joint develpment allowing the Redmond giant to take the IBM family jewels and include them in their own competitive products that were a better match for the hardware of that time, but not as forward thinking as the OS/2 architecture and interface. Further, by including a Windows compatibility mode in OS/2, IBM eliminated any compelling reason to develop applications specifically for OS/2, almost assuring it's disappearance when IBM just lost the stomach for competing with Windows. -- Opps, better stop now while I'm ahead, or short, or brief, or laconic.)

Originally written on April 25, 2011.

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