We cannot live without a web browser today. Edge, Firefox, Opera, Chrome, Safari and hundreds of others are available to make surfing the world wide web easier. Like every technological innovation someone had to take a chance and be the first to not only develop something but to also demonstrate that it was a viable product. For the web browser Mosaic was the first.

Mosaic was originally designed and implemented for the Unix X Window System by David Thompson, Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina. Thompson worked for the National Center for Supercomputer Applications (NCSA), a research institute affiliated with the University of Illinois-Chicago. In 1992 Thompson and Joseph Hardin connected to CERN and downloaded the browser developed by Tim Berners-Lee called ViolaWWW and demonstrated the web to the software design group. Everyone involved was impressed.

Andreessen and Bina, students involved with the group, set about to develop their own browser for use with Unix and in January 1993 released their first version. Berners-Lee himself forwarded the first version to the CERN newsgroups for distribution. Andreessen monitored the newsgroups for problems so that any bugs could be fixed and to field requests from users for new features. A version was quickly developed for Macintosh computers in 1993 with a Windows version following soon after.

Since the NCSA’s mission was to aid scientific research by developing non-commercial software Mosaic fit in perfectly with their mission. Funding for the project had been set aside by legislation sponsored by Senator Al Gore in 1991. Mosaic built on ViolaWWW and was able to incorporate graphics, sounds and video early on. Forms support was another early innovation which led to many of the apps that we take for granted today. Bookmarks and a browser history were also early innovations.

It was released to the connected public on April 22, 1993. It was unlike anything they had ever seen before. Mosaic brought color to the Internet. Pictures and other multimedia files had been available before but a user had to click on the link to view it. Now they were incorporated into the browser. No more dull document looking pages with a boring layout. Instead the Internet was changed forever. Links were easy to spot, they were blue and underlined. It was easy to navigate with the use of the back or forward buttons at the top of the browser.

The users of the Internet knew a good thing when they saw it and jumped on Mosaic helping it to become the world’s most popular web browser in 1994. Mosaic made it easy for anyone to surf the web which meant that the Internet was now no longer just the domain of the uber-nerd. It spawned the drive in many of its users to learn how to do things like create their own images and to develop their own webpages using HTML. Early tools like FTP, Telnet, gopher and Archie were Mosaic innovations. The NCSA assigned the commercial rights to Spyglass Inc which allowed it to be licensed to other companies that incorporated it into their web browsers, like Microsoft with Internet Explorer (to replace its initial browser Cello) and Andreessen’s new project called Navigator developed by his new company Netscape. This proved lucrative early on netting millions of dollars for Spyglass but proved to be Mosaic’s downfall.

As the browser war between Internet Explorer and Navigator heated up Mosaic fell by the wayside. Those companies were able to utilize much larger developmental teams and their product became far superior. In 1997 the NCSA ceased development of Mosaic. Some diehards refused to give it up and continued to develop their own versions of Mosaic into the early 2000’s and one version, Mosaic-CK has been active as recently as 2015.

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