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First Mass-Market Web Browser
Marc Andreessen (b. 1971), Eric Bina (b. 1964)
The World Wide Web was conceived as an information-sharing technology to make it easy for scientists to exchange knowledge and collaborate. One piece of this technology is a web browser, the software necessary to access, retrieve, and view the information wanted by the end user. Prior to Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina’s Mosaic browser—developed at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign—browsers were difficult for nontechnical people to use, only served up text, and were largely limited to UNIX workstations. Mosaic changed all that, igniting the internet boom and popularizing the “web” among the general public.
Mosaic really made the web “World Wide.” NCSA, and thus Mosaic, was funded by the High Performance Computing Act of 1991, also known as the Gore Bill because it was sponsored by then-senator Al Gore.
Existing browsers such as Midas, Viola, and Lynx were somewhat challenging to install and hard to use without technical expertise. And the web was mostly text: pictures in a web page were represented as links that had to be clicked to be opened, after which they were viewed in separate windows. Mosaic was simple. Getting it to run did not require any specialized skill set, and its interface was intuitive and easy for people to navigate. Links to different pages were highlighted and underlined in blue, and for the first time, graphics appeared alongside text. This addition of inline graphics is considered one of the key drivers that made the web take off and grow. Suddenly web pages were visually appealing and highly creative mediums for communication. What made this possible was Andreessen’s creation of a new HTML tag called IMG.
Initially available only on UNIX, versions of Mosaic soon came out for Amiga, Apple Macintosh, and Microsoft Windows. In 1994, Marc Andreessen and others from the Mosaic team left Illinois to form what would become known as Netscape Communications, where they created the Netscape Navigator browser. Like its ancestral roots, Navigator broke new ground and was for a period of time the world’s most popular browser until it was overtaken by Microsoft’s Internet Explorer®. As enhanced commercial browsers had taken off, NSCA ceased development and support for Mosaic in 1997.
SEE ALSO World Wide Web (1989), AltaVista Web Search Engine (1995), Google (1998)
The Mosaic web browser. Links to different pages were highlighted and underlined in blue.