Web Browser History

Dozens of innovative web browsers have been created by various people and teams over the years.

The first widely used web browser was NCSA Mosaic. The Mosaic programming team then created the first commercial web browser called Netscape Navigator, later renamed Communicator, then renamed back to just Netscape. The Netscape browser led in user share until Microsoft Internet Explorer took the lead in 1999 due to its distribution advantage. A free open source software version of Netscape was then developed called Mozilla, which was the internal name for the old Netscape browser, and released in 2002. Mozilla has since gained in market share, particularly on non-Windows platforms, largely due to its open source foundation, and as the internet became more widely available across the US and the world at large, it was released in 2004 as the quickly popular FireFox version.

A chronological listing of some of the influential early web browsers that advanced the state of the art is provided below:

  • WorldWideWeb. Tim Berners-Lee wrote the first web browser on a NeXT computer, called WorldWideWeb, finishing the first version on Christmas day, 1990. He released the program to a number of people at CERN in March, 1991, introducing the web to the high energy physics community, and beginning its spread.
  • libwww. Berners-Lee and a student at CERN named Jean-Francois Groff ported the WorldWideWeb application from the NeXT environment to the more common C language in 1991 and 1992, calling the new browser libwww. Groff later started the first web design company, InfoDesign.ch.
  • Line-mode. Nicola Pellow, a math student interning at CERN, wrote a line-mode web browser that would work on any device, even a teletype. In 1991, Nicola and the team ported the browser to a range of computers, from Unix to Microsoft DOS, so that anyone could access the web, at that point consisting primarily of the CERN phone book.
  • Erwise. After a visit from Robert Cailliau, a group of students at Helsinki University of Technology joined together to write a web browser as a master’s project. Since the acronym for their department was called “OTH”, they called the browser “erwise”, as a joke on the word “otherwise”. The final version was released in April, 1992, and included several advanced features, but wasn’t developed further after the students graduated and went on to other jobs.
  • ViolaWWW. Pei Wei, a student at the University of California at Berkeley, released the second browser for Unix, called ViolaWWW, in May, 1992. This browser was built on the powerful interpretive language called Viola that Wei had developed for Unix computers. ViolaWWW had a range of advanced features, including the ability to display graphics and download applets.
  • Midas. During the summer of 1992, Tony Johnson at SLAC developed a third browser for Unix systems, called Midas, to help distribute information to colleagues about his physics research.
  • Samba. Robert Cailliau started development of the first web browser for the Macintosh, called Samba. Development was picked up by Nicola Pellow, and the browser was functional by the end of 1992.
  • Mosaic. Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina from the NCSA released the first version of Mosaic for X-Windows on Unix computers in February, 1993. A version for the Macintosh was developed by Aleks Totic and released a few months later, making Mosaic the first browser with cross-platform support. Mosaic introduced support for sound, video clips, forms support, bookmarks, and history files, and quickly became the most popular non-commercial web browser. In August, 1994, NCSA assigned commercial rights to Mosaic to Spyglass, Inc., which subsequently licensed the technology to several other companies, including Microsoft for use in Internet Explorer. The NCSA stopped developing Mosaic in January 1997.
  • Arena. In 1993, Dave Raggett at Hewlett-Packard in Bristol, England, developed a browser called Arena, with powerful features for positioning tables and graphics.
  • Lynx. The University of Kansas had written a hypertext browser independently of the web, called Lynx, used to distribute campus information. A student named Lou Montulli added an Internet interface to the program, and released the web browser Lynx 2.0 in March, 1993. Lynx quickly became the preferred web browser for character mode terminals without graphics, and remains in use today. Resources include the Browser.org Lynx page.
  • Cello. Tom Bruce, cofounder of the Legal Information Institute, realized that most lawyers used Microsoft PC’s, and so he developed a web browser for that platform called Cello, finished in the summer of 1993.
  • Opera. In 1994, the Opera browser was developed by a team of researchers at a telecommunication company called Telenor in Oslo, Norway. The following year, two members of the team — Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner and Geir Ivars?y — left Telenor to establish Opera Software to develop the browser commercially. Opera 2.1 was first made available on the Internet in the summer of 1996.
  • Internet in a box. In January 1994, O’Reilly and Associates announced a product called Internet In A Box which collected all of the software needed to access the web together, so that you only had to install one application, instead of downloading and installing several programs. While not a unique browser in its own right, this product was a breakthrough because it distributed other browsers and made the web a lot more accessible to the home user.
  • Navipress. In February, 1994, Navisoft released a browser for the PC and Macintosh called Navipress. This was the first browser since Berners-Lee’s WorldWideWeb browser that incorporated an editor, so that you could browse and edit content at the same time. Navipress later became AOLPress, and is still available in some download locations on the Internet but has not been maintained since 1997.
  • Mozilla. In October, 1994, Netscape released the the first beta version of their browser, Mozilla 0.96b, over the Internet. On December 15, the final version was released, Mozilla 1.0, making it the first commercial web browser. An open source version of the Netscape browser was released in 2002 was also named Mozilla in tribute to this early version, and then released as the quickly popular FireFox in November, 2004.
  • Internet Explorer. On August 23rd, 1995, Microsoft released their Windows 95 operating system, including a Web browser called Internet Explorer. By the fall of 1996, Explorer had a third of market share, and passed Netscape to became the leading web browser in 1999.

As internet speeds and hardware continued to improve, many other browsers were also developed in the 1990’s to address niche requirements, several of which are listed below:

Historical Web Browsers

Active Worlds











NetManage Chameleon



Enhanced NCSA Mosaic



Quarterdeck WebC



IBM WebExplorer

Spyglass Enhanced Mosaic


TueV Mosaic for X



Resources. The following references provide more information about browser history:

  • Browser applications — lists sites that keep track of the different types of browsers which access them.
  • DejaVu.org — maintains a browser history timeline and a fascinating set of older browser emulators.