April 24, 2015 | General

Browsers (1)

Hi folks,

After 3 articles on DocuVieware (this one, this one and this one) you probably know by now that one (and clearly not the only) cool thing about it is that client-side has just one single requirement to provide users with state-of-the-art image/documents viewing, processing and managing: a browser.
So we thought maybe it’s a good idea to tell you a thing or two about browsers.
During researches made for this article, we found many insipid or inaccurate articles enjoying however lots of views, comments and ‘FB likes’ while a few others, not only interesting but also really funny (like this biblical one) having, helas!, apparently less popularity.
And knowing our readers are smarter, we did our best in putting together some interesting facts in a more distilled approach.

So what’s a browser, anyways? Well, basically it’s the computer program that turns the web’s Matrix of binary data into livable experiences so we can read, hear or watch information.

It’s a rabbit hole of sorts: we hop-in our current informational wish and it pops-out to us whatever we’ve asked for (and also what we didn’t ask for, actually, but that’s another story to tell).

The word “browser” comes from the verb “to browse” of course, which has multiple senses. The sense reserved for humans is “surveying goods for sale in a casual way” while the sense dedicated to animals is the action of “feeding on leaves, twigs or other high-growing vegetation” (quoted texts are taken from the authoritative Oxford Dictionary).
Nevermind, both original senses serve very well the internet-related sense which, although the most recent, it is probably one of the most used terms on Earth for the time being.

The origins of browsers as computer programs can be traced way back and the complete history of their evolution along time is as complicated as counterproductive. So let’s just follow a most simple and logical thread and start by marking 1990 as the first important milestone to mention.
It’s the year when Sir Tim Berners-Lee (inventor of the World Wide Web) developed two interesting programs while he was working for the European Organization for Nuclear Research, popularly known today as CERN due to its original French name, “Conseil Européen pour la Recherche Nucléaire“.
The 2 programs were the first web-browser and the first web-server, they were both written on NeXT workstation computer (one of Steve Job’s stunts during his exile from Apple) and they together became the foundations of the World Wide Web.
Actually the original name of the first web-browser was precisely “WorldWideWeb” but it had to be renamed later as “Nexus” to avoid confusion with the global information system we all refer to as the WWW (which in turn, became commonly confused with the term “internet” but hey, don’t we all live in a “Land of Confusion“, as Genesis used to sing?).
It took Sir Tim just 2 months to develop it, the first built was completed on Christmas Day of 1990 for internal use at CERN but just few months later it was released into public domain.
The rest is history, as they say, but an important note should be added: early web-browsers supported text and hyper-text only. Should a document (ie, a webpage) have images appended to it, their existence was marked by an icon within the page. So if the user wanted to view those images, he could optionally click the icons to download the image files, which then could be viewed in a separate image-viewer application only.

So here comes another important milestone to mention: 1993, when a team from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications in the US developed and released a web browser they’ve called “Mosaic”, because they’ve endowed it with support for multiple internet protocols. But Mosaic provided other important features as well: it was easy to install and use, it had an intuitive interface, it was ported for Windows Operating Systems and most of all, it was the first browser able to display images inline with the text.
All these made Mosaic so popular that today it is recognized as the browser that determined the explosion of the WWW.

And let us add: Mosaic’s authors from NCSA were the team which, starting with that moment until nowadays determined, either directly or indirectly, the entire history of modern browsers. Which is a Game of Thrones, really.
And they were the Starks.

Just one year after Mosaic was released and impressed users globally, the “Starks” moved out from NCSA to a new and independent Company their boss Marc Andreesen had co-founded, known as “Netscape”.
This move was kind of the first sign that a new principle was to arise, a silent deal between browser-makers and users all over the world, a principle we would express as “we give you reach, you make us rich“.
Netscape developed the Netscape Navigator, a completely re-written web-browser which came to reach a 90% global usage-share. They also invented the SSL for secure online communications and JavaScript, both fundamental elements of today’s web browsing. Quick side-note, JavaScript language was designed in just 10 days. In August 1995 Netscape made a most successful IPO that brought them a market value of nearly 3 billion USD.
But such success and bright future expectations cannot pass unnoticed so not before long they would see an ‘enemy at the gates‘. Not any gates but Bill Gates.

Thus started the really fierce and bloody battle known today as The First Browser War between Netscape and Microsoft. Microsoft prevailed in the end, of course, but among the prices it had to pay for their victory was an important loss in terms of public image (nothing new here, people emotionally simpathises with the weaker competitor while placing their bets on the stronger one).
Navigator wasn’t free while Internet Explorer not only was free but also came bundled with the Windows Operating Systems. And in the competition, Netscape strived to add more and more new features but to the detriment of Navigator’s overall stability and reliability, thus starting to lose its capital in public-opinion favours. So in early 1998 Netscape started open-sourcing Navigator’s code via an organization named Mozilla Organization (because the internal codename for Navigator was Mozilla standing for “Mosaic Killer”, a well deserved name actually) and by the end of the same year Netscape got sold to AOL.

Let’s not finish this first part of the browsers series, without adding a less notorious detail.
During the “Mosaic era”, another product was being developed at the NCSA, meant to be Mosaic’s natural complement: a web-server named NCSA HTTPd. It proved very popular, especially as it was the first one to introduce CGI, which allowed for dynamic webpages generation but its development at the NCSA stalled for whatever reasons. So some developers had to add patches to it, to make it comply with their specific needs. Thus it became “a patchy web-server”. Or “Apache web-server”. Rings a bell? It should, because this is the name of the most popular web-server in the world and this is how it started its impressive career.
Microsoft’s own web-server, the IIS, never reached the number 1 market share as did its complementary browser, the Internet Explorer.
But at least it wasn’t touched by the curse of being a most negatively-perceived product, either.
We know that for sure because, unlike IE, there is no announcement IIS will change its name.

Well, folks, this first episode ends here.
In case you are wondering what is the meaning of the suspension points above, the answer is quite simple: it was a moment of silence : RIP, IE!
Hello, Spartan!
Bye, folks!