A History of the Internet Era from Netscape to the iPad
Ayoung Marc Andreessen and a team of programmers at the NCSA on the campus of the University of Illinois create and publish the Mosaic browser, thereby creating the world wide web’s first killer app. Mosaic enjoys meteoric, overnight discuss. But the higher ups at the NCSA take the project away from the “kids” who created it. Examining Mosaic as the “trial run” for the product that would eventually be called Netscape Navigator.
Marc Andreessen heads out to Silicon Valley. He hooks up with startup legend Jim Clark. They decide to form a company, Netscape, to build upon Mosaic’s previous success. They “get the band back together” by recruiting most of the original Mosaic development team. Netscape Navigator is developed. The company hustles to establish itself before other, larger competitors catch on to the opportunity that is the web browser market.
Start-Up: The Book
Netscape launches and is a smashing success. Jim Barksdale officially comes on as CEO. Netscape fights off legal threats from the NCSA and the University of Illinois. Despite it’s young age and lack of profits, Netscape files to go public in THE historic IPO of the era. Flush with cash, flush with fame, Netscape girds for battle with a new foe: Microsoft.
Netscape has set the standard and taken the lead. But how long will it last? We take a step backwards in this episode and examine why Microsoft was so dominant at the beginning of the Internet Era. We ask the questions: Did Bill Gates really miss the Internet? And: Was the Information Superhighway and the Internet one and the same thing? And we look back on all the things that were distracting Microsoft at the dawn of the Internet Era.
Lou Montulli is a web pioneer. In 1991 and 1992 he co-authored a text web browser called Lynx with Michael Grobe and Charles Rezac while he was at the University of Kansas. This web browser was one of the first available and is still in use today.
In 1994 he became a founding engineer of Netscape Communications (employee number 9) and programmed the networking code for the first versions of the Netscape web browser.
He is also responsible for several browser innovations, such as HTTP cookies, the blink tag, server push and client pull, HTTP proxying, and the implementation of animated GIFs into the browser. While at Netscape, he also was a founding member of the HTML working group at the W3C and was a contributing author of the HTML 3.2 specification. He is a member of the World Wide Web Hall of Fame.
Lou was also a co-founder of Epinions.com. He was the CEO of Memory Matrix, and when that company was purchased by Shutterfly, he served as Shutterfly’s Vice President of Engineering. He is currently the co-founder and Chief Scientist at Zetta.net.
Chris Wilson has been working on browser technology for the better part of two decades. A member of the original Mosaic team, he went on to work first at Spry (producing Internet in a Box) and then later at Microsoft, where he was a major developer of Internet Explorer for almost 15 years.
Chris tells us about developing the first Windows port of Mosaic, describes how he was one of the original champions of CSS as a technology, gives us more background about the evolution and life cycle of Internet Explorer, and even described his brief tenure working on Microsoft's first foray into search engine technology!
The quora thread I mention briefly can be found here.
Microsoft was on top of the world at the dawn of the Internet Era… but like Jack Dawson in Titanic? Microsoft would pivot, and pivot hard, once it realized that the Internet was The Next Big Thing. This episode outlines how younger Microsoft employees agitated for a greater focus on the Internet, and how Bill Gates “got” the Internet religion. Microsoft’s embrace of the Internet is truly one of the greatest acts of agility in corporate history. Windows 95 and Internet Explorer are launched, and the seeds are sewn for the great anti-trust battle to come.
Aleks Totic was one of the original Mosaic engineers at the NCSA, responsible for the Mac version of Mosiac. They don’t call him “Mac Daddy” for nothing. He was then one of the 6 original programmers recruited by Marc Andreessen and Jim Clark to form Netscape. Aleks gives us some excellent behind the scenes anecdotes about both projects, and what it was like to head out to California to work on some crazy startup before doing something like that was “cool.”
A few fun nuggets of history we mention in the conversation:
Jon Mittelhauser is another of the core group of original Mosaic programmers who went on to found Netscape. Jon worked on the Windows versions of both Mosiac and Navigator eventually became the project manager for the Netscape Navigator project on the whole. He gives us great background and details about the development of browsers, the creation of features (he is the father of the hand icon, for example, and was instrumental in bringing image support to the web) and early web advancements in general.
Rob McCool is another of the core group of original Mosaic programmers who went on to found Netscape. Unlike a lot of the others we have spoken to, he worked more on the server side of the equation for both projects. Rob was also the original author of the NCSA HTTPd web server, later known as the Apache HTTP Server, so we can think of him as the Godfather of Apache. He was a contributor to the initial specification of the Common Gateway Interface (CGI), and later what became known as the Netscape Enterprise Server. Rob went on to work at both Yahoo and Onlive. He is currently at Google, where he works on structured Knowledge Bases and semantics.