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April 22, 1993 - A Day The Internet Fundamentally Changed

25 years ago, on April 22, 1993, a software release happened that fundamentally changed the user experience of the Internet. On that day, version 1.0 of “NCSA Mosaic for the X Window System” was released. You could now have (gasp!) text MIXED WITH IMAGES on the same page!

Reading the Mosaic 1.0 release notes from Marc Andreessen is a bit of fun, as it includes gems like “Fixed mysterious stupid coredump that only hits Suns.” and ” Obscure infinite loop triggered by extra space in IMG tag fixed.” It brings us back to a different era when the number of computing platforms was much smaller, as was the community of Internet users.

Marc, of course, would go on to co-found Netscape which would bring many improvements to the user experience, perhaps most notably the progressive loading of images. Unlike Mosaic, we suddenly no longer had to wait for everything to be downloaded to see the page displayed!

But all that was still to come. Back in April 1993, we were just delighted to be experimenting with this new Mosaic and this “World Wide Web” thing.

You must remember that at that time the Internet was primarily a text-based medium. Email was the major communication method. “Publishing”, such that it was, took place on menu-based gopher servers (with veronica for search), or by placing files on FTP servers (with archie for search), or by posting text into various USENET groups. Even this small new service known as the “World Wide Web” was all text.

Sure, you could download/view images, but to do so, you chose a link or a menu item or a filename. And you got the one image or movie or whatever.

Mosaic allowed us to display both images and text mixed together. The images were “inline”, as we would say. Wired published a good piece back in April 2010 that provides some perspective about how much this changed.

And suddenly so many of us wanted to publish our own web pages with our own images!

As if this weren’t enough, Mosaic also did something else remarkable - it gave us one user client that could connect to many different Internet services. From within Mosaic, you could connect out to all the other existing services. As stated in the 1.0 release notes:

NCSA Mosaic provides a consistent and easy-to-use hypermedia-based interface into a wide variety of networked information sources, including Gopher, WAIS, World Wide Web, NNTP/Usenet news, Techinfo, FTP, local filesystems, Archie, finger, Hyper-G, HyTelnet, TeXinfo, telnet, tn3270, and more.

(Remember all those?) Sure, the ftp experience in Mosaic might not have been as good as a dedicated FTP client, but it was “good enough” for many people.

I doubt many of us (myself included) had any clue how much our world would change. Mosaic would put a “face” on the Internet for so many new users. It made the alphabet soup of existing command-line tools so much easier and accessible to non-techie users. And it ushered in the rise of Web from this small experimental service on the Internet ... to becoming the dominant way in which we interact with content across the Internet. It opened the door to what would become millions and then billions of people communicating, connecting, coordinating, collaborating and creating. And, of course, commerce. And it started the idea of the “web browser” being the one tool you could use to access all services.

But back in April 1993, all those of us on UNIX platforms knew was that this Mosaic thing many of us had been playing with in beta form for a few months was now available as “1.0”. The Windows and Mac versions would come later that year. It was fun. It was cool.

And it would forever change the way users interact with services on the Internet.

By Dan York, Author and Speaker on Internet technologies - and on staff of Internet Society

Dan is the Director, Online Content, for the Internet Society but opinions posted on CircleID are his own. View more of Dan’s writing and audio here.

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ZDNet article has another perspective Dan York  –  Apr 28, 2018 6:41 AM

In a bit of nice synchronicity, on the same day I wrote this post here on CircleID, Steven Vaughan-Nichols wrote a similar retrospective about Mosaic on ZDNet:


He makes the excellent point that Mosaic was NOT the first “graphical” web browser, although it would turn out to be the most popular graphical browser of those early, pre-Netscape days. He mentions ViolaWWW and Cello, both of which I do remember trying on X-Windows and Microsoft Windows, respectively. He also links out to a great story about a Finnish browser “Erwise”, that I had not heard of.

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