History of the web browser

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Main article: Web browser

A web browser is a software application for retrieving, presenting and traversing information resources on the World Wide Web.

Tim Berners-Lee developed both the first web server, and the first web browser - WorldWideWeb (no spaces), later renamed Nexus.[1] Many others were soon developed, with Marc Andreessen's 1993 Mosaic (later Netscape),[2] being particularly easy to use and install, and often credited with sparking the internet boom of the 1990s.[3] Today, the major web browsers are Firefox, Internet Explorer, Google Chrome, Opera, and Safari.[4]


In 1984, expanding on ideas from futurist Ted Nelson, Neil Larson's commercial DOS Maxthink outline program added angle bracket hypertext jumps (adopted by later web browsers) to and from ASCII, batch, and other Maxthink files up to 32 levels deep.[citation needed] In 1986 he released his DOS Houdini network browser program that supported 2500 topics cross-connected with 7500 links in each file along with hypertext links among unlimited numbers of external ASCII, batch, and other Houdini files.[citation needed]

In 1987, these capabilities were included in his then popular shareware DOS file browser programs HyperRez (memory resident) and PC Hypertext (which also added jumps to programs, editors, graphic files containing hot spots jumps, and cross-linked theraurus/glossary files). These programs introduced many to the browser concept and 20 years later, Google still lists 3,000,000 references to PC Hypertext. In 1989, he created both HyperBBS and HyperLan which both allow multiple users to create/edit both topics and jumps for information and knowledge annealing which, in concept, the columnist John C. Dvorak says pre-dated Wiki by many years.[citation needed]

From 1987 on, he also created TransText (hypertext word processor) and many utilities for rapidly building large scale knowledge systems ... and in 1989 helped produce for one of the big eight accounting firms[citation needed] a comprehensive knowledge system of integrating all accounting laws/regulations into a CDROM containing 50,000 files with 200,000 hypertext jumps. Additionally, the Lynx (a very early web-based browser) development history notes their project origin was based on the browser concepts from Neil Larson and Maxthink.[5] In 1989, he declined joining the Mosaic browser team with his preference for knowledge/wisdom creation over distributing information ... a problem he says is still not solved by today's internet.

Another early browser, Silversmith, was created by John Bottoms in 1987.[6] The browser, based on SGML tags,[7] used a tag set from the Electronic Document Project of the AAP with minor modifications and was sold to a number of early adopters. At the time SGML was used exclusively for the formatting of printed documents.[8] The use of SGML for electronically displayed documents signaled a shift in electronic publishing and was met with considerable resistance. Silversmith included an integrated indexer, full text searches, hypertext links between images text and sound using SGML tags and a return stack for use with hypertext links. It included features that are still not available in today's browsers. These include capabilities such as the ability to restrict searches within document structures, searches on indexed documents using wild cards and the ability to search on tag attribute values and attribute names.

Starting in 1988, Peter Scott and Earle Fogel expanded the earlier HyperRez concept in creating Hytelnet which added jumps to telnet sites ... and which by 1990 offered users instant logon and access to the online catalogs of over 5000 libraries around the world. The strength of Hytelnet was speed and simplicity in link creation/execution at the expense of a centralized world wide source for adding, indexing, and modifying telnet links.[citation needed] This problem was solved by the invention of the web server.

The NeXT Computer which Berners-Lee used as the first web server.

In April 1990, a draft patent application for a mass market consumer device for browsing pages via links "PageLink" was proposed by Craig Cockburn at Digital Equipment Co Ltd (DEC) whilst working in their Networking and Communications division in Reading, England. This application for a keyboardless touch screen browser for consumers also makes reference to "navigating and searching text" and "bookmarks" was aimed at (quotes paraphrased) "replacing books", "storing a shopping list" "have an updated personalised newspaper updated round the clock", "dynamically updated maps for use in a car" and suggests such a device could have a "profound effect on the advertising industry". The patent was canned by Digital as too futuristic and, being largely hardware based, had obstacles to market that purely software driven approaches did not suffer from.

Early 1990s: WWW browsers[edit]

A graph showing the market share of Unix vs Windows browsers.

The first web browser, WorldWideWeb, was developed in 1990 by Tim Berners-Lee for the NeXT Computer (at the same time as the first web server for the same machine)[9][10] and introduced to his colleagues at CERN in March 1991.

In 1992, Tony Johnson released the MidasWWW browser. Based on Motif/X, MidasWWW allowed viewing of PostScript files on the Web from Unix and VMS, and even handled compressed PostScript.[11] Another early popular Web browser was ViolaWWW, which was modeled after HyperCard. In the same year the Lynx browser was announced[5] - the only one of these early projects still being maintained and supported today.[12]

Thomas R. Bruce of the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School started 1992 to develop Cello. When released on 8 June 1993 it was one of the first graphical web browsers, and the first to run on Windows: Windows 3.1, NT 3.5, and OS/2.

However, the explosion in popularity of the Web was triggered by NCSA Mosaic which was a graphical browser running originally on Unix and soon ported to the Amiga and VMS platforms, and later the Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows platforms. Version 1.0 was released in September 1993,[13] and was dubbed the killer application of the Internet. It was the first web browser to display images inline with the document's text.[14] Prior browsers would display an icon that, when clicked, would download and open the graphic file in a helper application. This was an intentional design decision on both parts, as the graphics support in early browsers was intended for displaying charts and graphs associated with technical papers while the user scrolled to read the text, while Mosaic was trying to bring multimedia content to non-technical users. Marc Andreessen, who was the leader of the Mosaic team at NCSA, quit to form a company that would later be known as Netscape Communications Corporation. Netscape released its flagship Navigator product in October 1994, and it took off the next year.

IBM presented its own Web Explorer with OS/2 Warp in 1994.

UdiWWW was the first web browser that was able to handle all HTML 3 features with the math tags released 1995. Following the release of version 1.2 in April 1996, Bernd Richter ceased development, stating "let Microsoft with the ActiveX Development Kit do the rest."[15][16][17]

Microsoft, which had thus far not marketed a browser, finally entered the fray with its Internet Explorer product (version 1.0 was released 16 August 1995), purchased from Spyglass, Inc. This began what is known as the "browser wars" in which Microsoft and Netscape competed for the Web browser market.

The wars put the Web in the hands of millions of ordinary PC users, but showed how commercialization of the Web could stymie standards efforts. Both Microsoft and Netscape liberally incorporated proprietary extensions to HTML in their products, and tried to gain an edge by product differentiation, leading to the acceptance of the Cascading Style Sheets proposed by Håkon Wium Lie over Netscape's JavaScript Style Sheets (JSSS) by W3C.

Late 1990s: Microsoft vs Netscape[edit]

In 1996, Netscape's share of the browser market reached 86% (with Internet Explorer edging up 10%); but then Microsoft began integrating its browser with its operating system and bundling deals with OEMs, and within two years the balance had reversed. Although Microsoft has since faced antitrust litigation on these charges, the browser wars effectively ended once it was clear that Netscape's declining market share trend was irreversible. Prior to the release of Mac OS X, Internet Explorer for Mac and Netscape were also the primary browsers in use on the Macintosh platform.

Unable to continue commercially funding their product's development, Netscape responded by open sourcing its product, creating Mozilla. This helped the browser maintain its technical edge over Internet Explorer, but did not slow Netscape's declining market share. Netscape was purchased by America Online in late 1998.


At first, the Mozilla project struggled to attract developers, but by 2002 it had evolved into a relatively stable and powerful internet suite. Mozilla 1.0 was released to mark this milestone. Also in 2002, a spinoff project that would eventually become the popular Firefox was released.

Firefox was always downloadable for free from the start, as was its predecessor, the Mozilla browser. Firefox's business model, unlike the business model of 1990s Netscape, primarily consists of doing deals with search engines such as Google to direct users towards them - see Web browser#Business models.

In 2003, Microsoft announced that Internet Explorer would no longer be made available as a separate product but would be part of the evolution of its Windows platform, and that no more releases for the Macintosh would be made.

AOL announced that it would retire support and development of the Netscape web browser in February 2008.[18]

In the second half of 2004 Internet Explorer reached a peak market share of more than 92%.[19] Since then, its market share has been slowly but steadily declining and is around 11.8% as of July 2013. In early 2005, Microsoft reversed its decision to release Internet Explorer as part of Windows, announcing that a standalone version of Internet Explorer was under development. Internet Explorer 7 was released for Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, and Windows Vista in October 2006. Internet Explorer 8 was released on 19 March 2009 for Windows XP, Windows Server 2003, Windows Vista, Windows Server 2008, and Windows 7.[20]

Apple's Safari, the default browser on Mac OS X from version 10.3 onwards, has grown to dominate browsing on Mac OS X. Browsers such as Firefox, Camino, Google Chrome, and OmniWeb are alternative browsers for Mac systems. OmniWeb and Google Chrome, like Safari, use the WebKit HTML rendering engine, which is packaged by Apple as a framework for use by third-party applications. In August 2007, Apple also ported Safari for use on the Windows XP and Vista operating systems.

Opera was first released in 1996. It is a popular choice in handheld devices, particularly mobile phones, but remains a niche player in the PC Web browser market. It is also available on Nintendo's DS, DS Lite and Wii consoles.[21] The Opera Mini browser uses the Presto layout engine like all versions of Opera, but runs on most phones supporting Java Midlets.

The Lynx browser remains popular for Unix shell users and with vision impaired users due to its entirely text-based nature. There are also several text-mode browsers with advanced features, such as w3m, Links (which can operate both in text and graphical mode), and the Links forks such as ELinks.

Relationships of browsers[edit]

A number of web browsers have been derived and branched from source code of earlier versions and products.

Timeline representing the development of various web browsers.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Tim Berners-Lee: WorldWideWeb, the first Web client". W3.org. 
  2. ^ "Frequently asked questions by the Press – Tim BL". W3.org. 
  3. ^ "Bloomberg Game Changers: Marc Andreessen". Bloomberg.com. 17 March 2011. 
  4. ^ "Browser". Mashable. Retrieved 2 September 2011. 
  5. ^ a b "An Early History of Lynx". People.cc.ku.edu. 10 April 1997. 
  6. ^ Mike Ciaraldi. "John Bottoms' short biography". Gbcacm.org. 
  7. ^ "Sgml-Faq". 
  8. ^ "United States Patent 5157783". Freepatentsonline.com. 
  9. ^ <The Server Guide: CERN httpd
  10. ^ History of the Web
  11. ^ Jean Marie Deken. "The Early World Wide Web at SLAC: Early Chronology and Documents". Slac.stanford.edu. 
  12. ^ "Lynx, Current development", lynx.isc.org
  13. ^ Vetter, Ronald J. (October 1994). "Mosaic and the World-Wide Web" (PDF). North Dakota State University. Retrieved 20 November 2010. 
  14. ^ Berners-Lee, Tim. "What were the first WWW browsers?". World Wide Web Consortium. Retrieved 2010-06-15. 
  15. ^ Richter, Bernd (4 September 1996). "UdiWWW: Coming soon". University of Ulm. Archived from the original on 9 July 1997. Retrieved 16 March 2010. 
  16. ^ Bernd Richter (26 May 1997). "UdiWWW". University of Ulm. Archived from the original on 24 July 1997. Retrieved 13 March 2010. 
  17. ^ "The 'link'-Element in (X)HTML". subotnik.net. 30 March 2004. Retrieved 14 March 2010. 
  18. ^ geri says: (1 January 2008). "AOL to retire Netscape". Searchviews.com. 
  19. ^ "Market share for browsers, operating systems and search engines". Marketshare.hitslink.com. 
  20. ^ "Internet Explorer 8 download". Microsoft.com. 
  21. ^ "Opera browser: Features". Opera.com. 

External links[edit]