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Geek Trivia: Clear browser history

What was the first World Wide Web browser for Windows?

Fifteen years ago next week, the first mainstream World Wide Web browser, Mosaic, was released to the public. On April, 22, 1993, lead programmers Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina offered up Mosaic under some of the most generous terms possible for a non-shareware or freeware program. Over the next year, browsing the World Wide Web quickly began its transformation from fringe techie pastime to hub of contemporary culture and communication.

Yeah, we said Mosaic wasn't shareware or freeware. It also wasn't open source, despite what some folks will tell you. The U.S. National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) always retained rights to the code, because Andreessen and Bina wrote the original browser, NCSA Mosaic, for the agency. These Mosaic-equals-open source myths got started because Mosaic was almost totally free-for-use to noncommercial users -- the average college professor or computer enthusiast -- and the source code was available for noncommercial tinkering to anyone who wanted to program on the UNIX X-Windows platform, for which Mosaic was originally designed. But there were usage restrictions, even for noncommercial consumers.

By the end of 1993, Mosaic had been ported to the Commodore Amiga, Apple Macintosh, and Windows PC operating systems, and that's when things got really interesting. You'll note that Windows, Mac, Amiga, and X-Windows are all graphic user interface (GUI) operating systems, and Mosaic was the first successful Web browser to be GUI-friendly and available on all the major GUI platforms of the day. This, more than anything, led to its successful adoption, and by extension, the relative popularization of the Web.

Mosaic is also a direct ancestor of the major browsers that succeeded and superseded it in the marketplace. Andreessen, for those that don't know, left NCSA and formed Mosaic Communications, which became Netscape Communications, originator of the Netscape browser. Spyglass, meanwhile, licensed NCSA Mosaic technology to build its own browser, Spyglass Mosaic. Spyglass then re-licensed its Mosaic to Microsoft, who turned it into Internet Explorer. Netscape lost the market battle with IE, so they turned it into an open source project called Mozilla, which produced the Firefox browser.

Thus, Mosaic is in some respects the most influential Web application ever created. But that doesn't mean it deserves every accolade heaped upon it. For example, despite what you may have heard, Mosaic was not the first PC browser -- that title belongs to another long-forgotten app written for a niche audience you wouldn't expect.

WHAT WAS THE FIRST WORLD WIDE WEB BROWSER FOR WINDOWS?

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About

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger -- amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

10 comments
FiOS-Dave
FiOS-Dave

I'm glad that someone still remembers Cello!! This was the first browser I used and I still have fond memories of using it to "surf" to websites long-forgotten. Does anyone know why it was called Cello??? Dave

Marty-7
Marty-7

Good to have you back, Jay! No quibbles about that. ;^)

jmoyer
jmoyer

There is a typo where or replaced and of. In the October 1994 issue or Wired, ... instead of In the October 1994 issue of Wired, ... Keep up the good work, er, trivia.

Eddie N
Eddie N

and the dancing Duke ... nice to see him again :)

tom.bruce
tom.bruce

I was invited to respond to this by one of the participants in the discussion. Sorta heartwarming to see that 15-year-old chunk of code still remembered by somebody. Cello was, in fact, the first web browser *for Windows* -- the claim made in the trivia question -- though as others rightly point out it was preceded by the line-mode browser, Erwise, Midas, Viola, and the XWindow version of Mosaic. I won't rehearse all of the goings-on at the time, but it's my opinion that had Cello not been released there would have been no Windows version of Mosaic until late 1994 or early 1995, as Windows development was not a priority for the NCSA team until they saw that they had a competitor. It was named Cello partly as a play on Viola, and partly as a tribute to an old friend. Unknown to most, there was a version 2 of Cello that was the basis of Web-retrieval features in a number of commercial non-browser products -- but ultimately the whole thing fell victim to the sheer difficulty of developing applications of that size as a one-man proposition.

mfa
mfa

From http://deladuck.com/school/msproj/tech.html "Two early browsers that came from outside CERN were Viola and Cello. Viola was developed by Pei Wei at Berkeley in January of 1993, and Cello was developed by Thomas Bruce at Cornell later in 1993."

read
read

There isn't anything in the FAQ that came with Cello that answers why it was called Cello. Here's a short description of the program from the FAQ (note that all the Cornell links to Cello are broken as far as I can tell): ---------------- Q1.1 What is Cello? Cello is a WWW browser that works under Microsoft Windows and allows people with a connection to the Internet to follow Hypertext (or Hypermedia) links to files and information services all over the world. It displays both regular text files and files that are written in HTML format, and will translate different Internet services like Gopher and News and FTP into a format that appears to the user as if it were a hypertext document. It was written by Thomas Bruce of the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School. That is the technical explanation. More interesting is what Cello is (or will be) to you. It allows you to move around the vast information resources of the Internet with no knowledge of the service you are using, the machine you are connecting with, or the location of the information on that machine. You just follow the hypertext links to get the text or hypertext or sound or image or animation or whatever information is available. And the text that surrounds the links gives you the context you need to know that you are moving in the right direction. The latest version of Cello is Version 0.9Beta. It is available via FTP from ftp.law.cornell.edu, /pub/LII/Cello/cello.zip. ---------------- ...the FAQ goes on to descript what WWW, HTML and other things are and then how to install and run Cello, use of Telnet, some "good URLs to look at" and various limitations in the program and workarounds for them.

gbarn
gbarn

Quit that! He can inadvertently type any ors that he wants. I'm just glad he's still around dishing out geek trivia to us ever eager Trivia Geek addicts...

aes2day
aes2day

Tim Berners-Lee wrote the browser-editor originally named WorldWideWeb in 1990, and later renamed to Nexus. It was only for the NeXT computer platform.

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