Web Browsers Through the Ages

From Netscape and Firefox to Internet Explorer and Opera, we explore the highs and lows from two decades of the browser wars.

20 Years of Browsers

Twenty years ago this month, Tim Berners-Lee compiled and tested the very first Web browser, WorldWideWeb. To celebrate this anniversary, let's take a look back through the Web browser family photo album. You'll see everything from baby pictures to portraits of the mature products that users enjoy today. This slideshow can’t cover everything, of course, so feel free to discuss your favorite browser moments in the comments.

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WorldWideWeb (1990)

Here it is: the world's first Web browser. The earliest versions ran only on NeXTSTEP, an advanced graphical OS designed for Steve Jobs's NeXT computers. The browser was a primitive affair with no graphics, but users could edit Web pages from within the browser itself.

ViolaWWW (1992)

ViolaWWW was the first Web browser for the Unix-based X Windowing System. It incorporated the first forward, back, and home buttons, along with advanced features such as stylesheets and a custom scripting language.

Cello (1993)

Cello was the first Web browser for Microsoft Windows (version 3.1, in fact). Its author, Thomas R. Bruce, developed it so that lawyers could have access to legal information available only in hypertext at the time.

Lynx 2.0 (1993)

CERN created the world's second Web browser--the text-only "Line Mode Browser"--in 1990 so that the Web would be accessible across all platforms via Telnet. Lynx continued the trend in 1993, and soon became the most popular text-only browser. It still sees heavy use today.

NCSA Mosaic 1.0 (1993)

NCSA Mosaic brought the WWW to the general public's attention, thanks to its ease of use, its presence on Windows and Macintosh platforms (Unix XWindows version shown here), and its ability to display images inline with text.

IBM WebExplorer (1994)

IBM broke into the Web browser field relatively early with the Mosaic-based WebExplorer, designed for the company's OS/2 Warp 3 operating system. Critics hailed IBM's browser, but its exclusive availability on a less-dominant OS limited its reach and influence.

Netscape Navigator 1.0 (1994)

After finding success with Mosaic, that browser's creators left NCSA to form Netscape Communications, which developed Netscape Navigator 1.0. Navigator soon became the dominant browser due to features such as on-the-fly page rendering (elements displayed as they loaded) and innovative extensions to HTML.

Microsoft Internet Explorer 1.0 (1995)

Seeing Netscape's success, Microsoft decided to jump into the browser business. The company started with code from Spyglass Mosaic and molded it into something utterly mediocre in its first release. After a few major updates and the all-important bundling with Windows, Internet Explorer began to gain steam.

Netscape Navigator 3.0 (1996)

Here's Netscape at the height of its popularity and influence--the period just before Internet Explorer stole the wind from its sails. Among other features, version 3.0 included support for certain audio and video formats, JavaScript (introduced in version 2.0), and new security enhancements. It also crashed a lot.

Opera 2.0 (1996)

Norwegian company Opera Software released the first public version of Opera browser, version 2.0, for Windows in 1996. It soon found its way to other platforms and gained popularity as a Netscape/IE alternative due to its lean nature and its emphasis on adherence to Web standards.

KDE Konqueror (2000)

Konqueror, both a Web browser and a file manager, debuted with the KDE 2 desktop environment for Unix-like systems in 2000. Its open-source rendering engine, KHTML, later became the basis for Apple's Safari Web browser.

Microsoft Internet Explorer 5 for Mac (2001)

With the coming of the Mac OS X operating system, Apple needed a new Web browser. Thanks to the 1997 Apple-Microsoft deal, Microsoft was happy to bring Internet Explorer to OS X. Unfortunately, IE 5 for Mac was perpetually buggy.

Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 (2001)

The era of IE 6 marked the height of Microsoft's browser dominance--as well as the height of its sloth and sloppiness in browser design. Users found IE 6 replete with security holes and abysmal standards compliance, igniting a backlash that led to the rise of new browser alternatives.

Netscape 7 (2002)

Facing dwindling market share, Netscape released much of its code as open source in 1998. This action led to the birth of the briefly popular open-source Mozilla Navigator browser. Netscape then folded the Mozilla changes back into Netscape 7, but the Netscape brand never recovered from IE domination.

Mozilla Phoenix 0.1 (2002)

From the ashes of the bloated Netscape and Mozilla Communications suites rose the lean and mean Mozilla Phoenix project. It emphasized simplicity, speed, and standards compliance above feature creep. Shown here is the first early release version of what would later become Firebird, then Firefox.

Apple Safari Public Beta (2003)

Internet Explorer 5 for Mac--the Mac OS's default browser up to 2003--was a buggy, slow embarrassment compared with learner alternatives arriving at the time. So the designers at Apple decided to create a speedy, modern browser that they could call their own: Safari.

Mozilla Firefox 1.0 (2004)

After enjoying years of popularity in its beta incarnations, Mozilla's Firefox Web browser finally released as version 1.0 to great fanfare and impressive download numbers in 2004. Fans saw using it as a way to strike back against years of IE influence on the Web. The tactic worked, forcing Microsoft to reach new levels of browser innovation.

Google Chrome Beta (2008)

As if Google didn't control enough of the Web already, in 2008 the search behemoth decided to release its own Web browser. Google Chrome emphasizes speed, stability, and flexible plug-ins. It continues to gain market share, adding yet another chapter to the never-ending saga of the Web browser wars.

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