This week marks the 30th anniversary of the web, or at least the date that Tim Berners-Lee made a proposal at the Swiss particle physics lab CERN involving the creation of a hypertextual system that would end up becoming the web as we know it today.

The history of web browsers on Apple devices takes a lot of twists and turns. Fortunately, I’ve been around for most of them. In fact, my first magazine cover story ever was in July 1996 about the first big browser war. You might be surprised just how much impact Apple has had on the development of the web itself.

Prehistory: The first era

Perhaps most importantly, the first web browser was created on a product that, while not labeled with an Apple logo, is now the intellectual property of Apple. Tim Berners-Lee wrote the first browser, itself called WorldWideWeb, on a NeXT computer in 1990. NeXT, a company founded by Steve Jobs, was purchased by Apple in 1997, and its NextStep operating system became the foundation of Mac OS X, which itself became the foundation for iOS. Thousands of iOS developers work with foundational frameworks with names that start with NS, like NSText, without every realizing that the NS stands for NextStep.

NeXT browserJason Snell

NextStep running the OmniWeb browser, which arrived on the scene much later.

Berners-Lee ended up rewriting his browser engine in a cross-platform language, which was useful since almost nobody in the world had a NeXT computer. The next big step was the appearance on the scene of NCSA Mosaic, which was the first web browser I ever saw.

It seems so pedestrian today, but in 1993 the web browser was a revelation. The internet back then, for the few of us who were on it, was basically a wash of text. Services like Gopher let you move around the internet with hyperlinks, but it was basically plain text and arrow keys and long menus of options.

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Then all of a sudden, I’m sitting on my couch in an apartment at UC Berkeley and there are pictures coming up on the screen of my PowerBook 160. (They were in grayscale because the PowerBook’s screen didn’t support color, but still—they were pictures.) There were underlined hyperlinks you could click on to go to other pages. It was, even by the standards of a couple years later, unbelievably primitive—but also fundamentally recognizable as the web. The internet was never, ever the same.

The first browser war

Mark Andreessen, who helped create NCSA Mosaic, famously decamped to the Bay Area and co-founded Netscape Communications in an attempt to commercialize the web browser. In short order, Netscape Navigator was created as a follow-on project—the first widely popular web browser. Netscape was a revelation, in that it was developed by a team of paid professionals rather than a much smaller team at the University of Illinois. It was big and ambitious and set the standard for what a “real” browser should be.

netscape1macMacintosh Repository

Nescape Navigator 1.0N for Mac

Netscape came to the Mac and eventually became the default browser, bundled with the classic Mac OS. But then came the earth-shaking day in 1995 when Microsoft, which dominated the entire computer industry with its Windows operating system, decided that it was going to embrace (read: take over) the web. In 1996, Internet Explorer came to the Mac—and something weird happened.





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