22, No. 18, April 17, 2003
Future Frontier: Computing on NCSA Mosaic’s 10th
7 to 9 p.m. April 29
Five experts in the computing industry will lead a symposium
commemorating the anniversary of the release of Mosaic,
the first popular graphical interface for the World Wide
Web. The event also will be webcast.
Featured: Dan Reed, NCSA director; Vinton Cerf, WorldCom;
Ray Ozzie, Groove Network; Rick Rashid, Microsoft; and
David Kuck, Intel. The panelists will reflect on the impact
of Mosaic and other browsers on society, science and business
and discuss the developments they foresee in computing
technology over the next decade. The event is free and
open to the public.
Over the past decade,
the World Wide Web has become a ubiquitous presence and a multi-billion-dollar
industry, according to analysts. And one catalyst for the Web’s
explosive growth came from the UI’s Urbana campus.
Mosaic, the first graphical Web browser made available to the public
at large, was developed by a software development group at the National
Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). Although the Internet
had been in existence for many years when Mosaic debuted in 1993, Mosaic
helped it evolve into an information superhighway by sparking the public’s
interest in exploring this new frontier.
"NCSA became part of Internet history when it released Mosaic and
the general public began to discover the Web," said NCSA Director
Dan Reed. "Today’s browsers still depend on that original
bit of ingenuity."
In the early 1990s, the network of computers that made up the Internet
and the data they contained were largely the realm of universities,
information technology professionals and the military. Simply locating
and accessing information on the system could be a daunting task for
nontechnical people who lacked proficiency with Unix software.
"It was the dark ages," said Michelle Butler, technical program
manager at NCSA and one of the many staff and students connected with
the Mosaic project. "You couldn’t get to any information
out there at all. There was no way to search it or list where things
were at. There was no common spot to get data from or a common format
for data. There was no reason for the regular person to use their home
computer to access the Internet because there was nothing out there
The prototype for Mosaic was developed during 1992 by a group of NCSA
staff and students who were intrigued by two recent developments in
computing: the hypertext protocol, a system of electronic links for
structuring and displaying documents, and a program called the World
Wide Web, a system for linking computer systems and sharing documents
over the Internet that was developed in 1989 by a software engineer
at CERN, the European Particle Physics Research Laboratory, in Switzerland.
The NCSA team visualized greater potential applications for these mechanisms
and incorporated them into a software program that was given the name
When Mosaic made its 1993 debut, it opened up the Internet for nontechnical
consumers by simplifying access. Users did not need to be proficient
with a slew of cumbersome, single-purpose applications; even neophytes
could "surf" Internet pages with relative ease, thanks to
hyperlinks – electronic links that allowed users to jump between
documents and parts of documents.
Behind the scenes, Mosaic could interface with protocols such as FTP,
Gopher and Telnet to find and retrieve information. Files Mosaic could
not handle internally, such as sound files and JPEG images, were automatically
routed to external players or viewers.
But perhaps what really sparked the public’s imagination was Mosaic’s
graphical capabilities, which delivered full-color images, sound and
textual formatting, adding exciting dimensions to Internet materials.
Once users discovered that perusing documents in cyberspace could be
fun and relatively easy, more people started getting interested in using
the Internet and the number of Web pages available began to multiply
exponentially. Businesses also began taking notice of the Internet and
its potential as a marketplace and advertising medium.
Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), the scripting language Mosaic used
to create the graphical and textual effects, started becoming the standard
protocol for Web pages. Until that time, users often encountered problems
loading and viewing pages when the coding was incompatible with their
"Mosaic actually evolved the entire Internet," Butler said.
Although other browsers existed at the time, Mosaic was the first widely
distributed product. Noncommercial users could download it free from
the NCSA site. The X (Unix) platform version was released in April 1993,
and versions for Windows and Macintosh followed in December, providing
the browser to users with all sizes of computer systems.
Within a year of Mosaic’s release, the NCSA Web site recorded
more than a million downloads, and that number doubled again by 1995,
with new users acquiring the popular browser at the rate of 70,000 per
"We couldn’t keep the server up to hand this code out fast
enough," Butler said.
In 1994, NCSA began transferring Mosaic to the commercial sector via
Spyglass Inc., and licensing agreements with more than 100 software
development companies, including Microsoft, which incorporated it into
Although NCSA no longer supports Mosaic, documentation and information
are still available in the archives on NCSA’s site.
The 10th anniversary of Mosaic’s release will be commemorated
April 29 with a symposium featuring a panel discussion by several computing
experts, who will talk about Mosaic’s impact and the future of
NCSA Web browser ‘Mosaic’
was catalyst for Internet growth
Sharita Forrest, Assistant Editor
(217) 244-1072; email@example.com