Down Web Memory Lane, Our First Browser and Server
10 March 2010
It did not take much persuading by a tweet from Stephen Collins (@trib) to follow his suggestion to read Mark Pesce’s post with the provocative title Dense and Thick. Mark takes us downwards through his definitions of the golden, silver and bronze ages of the web, a descent which is controversial at best.
It was the very start of the golden age that sparked my own memories. Even for a renowned futurist like Mark I think my own web golden age just predates his. As 1993 dawned my colleagues and I were running Gopher on the Mac platform and were able to do simplistic searches of text-based information. (We were also heavy users of HyperCard, a simple, scriptable hypertext system based on the index card metaphor that allowed sophisticated apps to be built quickly. To this day I don’t understand why Apple discontinued such an outstanding product.)
I was leading a DSTC (Distributed Systems Technology Centre) research project at Bond. Alas the DSTC is no more but lives on as a Google group. We had DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) machines based on MIPS, a 4000 and 5000, running Ultrix (DEC’s version of BSD Unix), and we were able to run early pre-1.0 releases of the Mosaic browser from about March 1993 – the graphical Mosaic browser revolutionised the web. Version 1.0 came along in April 1993.
A couple of months later we took delivery of two DEC Alpha machines, a workstation and a server. The DEC Alpha was the world’s first 64-bit production processor and it ran DEC OSF/1 Unix. With the Alpha server’s massive memory of 256MB we were able to run the NCSA web server and I revelled in writing my first web pages by October 1993, now over 16 years ago.
They were definitely happy days and worthy of Mark’s golden age tag. I, too, well remember the master list of sites maintained by CERN but can’t claim to have visited every one. The Yahoo directory that soon came along was invaluable as the number of web sites exploded as was DEC’s Alta Vista search engine that came in 1995. How quickly appears nostalgia as we wander down memory lane.
[I am grateful to Tak Woo, CEO of OntheNet, for filling in some of the technical details of our hardware. Tak was the senior Research Scientist on our DSTC research project at Bond during the golden age.]