From Mosaic to Mozilla: The modern web browser’s journey

Before Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or even Internet Explorer, there was NCSA Mosaic, commonly referred to as just Mosaic. The NCSA acronym stood for the National Center for Supercomputing Applications, which is located at the University of Illinois. It was here that co-founder Marc Andreessen found himself in 1993, as he launched the web browser that would introduce the Internet to the general public.

Today, Marc Andreessen is a titan in the tech industry. He sits on the board of directors for companies like eBay and Facebook, but in the early 90s he was just a college student fascinated by the Internet and unimpressed by the browsers of the time.

After switching out of electrical engineering because he wasn’t doing well, Andreessen decided to major in computer science, a subject he had taken interest in at a young age – he taught himself BASIC programing at the age of nine.

It was after this switch, in 1992 at the age of 21, that Andreessen conceived the idea for Mosaic. He partnered up with Eric Bina, a programmer at the NCSA, and gathered a team to create it. Andreessen eventually went on to found Mosaic Communications, which would become Netscape Communications – yes, that Netscape.

Mosaic wasn’t the world’s first web browser—far from it, actually—but it was ground-breaking nonetheless, because it brought together features offered by various browsers, while innovating the entire concept of web browsing.

Web browsers before Mosaic presented information in text form only. Multimedia did exist, but it was accessed via links that opened up in a new window.

Mosaic integrated text and multimedia so that everything could be arranged on one page, and it did this all in colour.

This piecing together of different features to create a final product, as well as the ability to render it all in colour, inspired Mosaic’s name to highlight the browser’s similarities with the art technique.

Mosaic was so radical that even current browsers borrow cues from it, like the navigation menu’s back and forward buttons.

According to the NCSA website, shortly after Mosaic was released it was downloaded about 5,000 times per month, and won a slew of awards that appreciated its impact on the tech industry as well as what it did for telecommunications.

1993 proved to be a very productive year for Andreessen, because hot on the heels of NCSA Mosaic’s success and inspired by James H. Clark—another Silicon Valley celebrity—Andreessen left the NCSA to found the business venture Mosaic Communications.

Andreessen brought with him some of the team that worked on the NCSA project, and one year later the company’s first product called Mosaic Netscape 0.9 was released. Months later an updated version called Netscape Navigator followed.

Both products were major successes that dwarfed NCSA Mosaic, and unfortunately this led to a dispute with the University of Illinois over the Mosaic trademark, forcing Mosaic Communications to became Netscape Communications.

The company’s success also caught the attention of Microsoft, which tried to buy Netscape Communications, and when this failed developed Internet Explorer, inciting the first-ever browser war.

In the proceeding years, Netscape was slowly annihilated by Internet Explorer and eventually bought by AOL in 1998 for US $4.2 billion, where it remains as a largely defunct intellectual property.

1998 also saw Netscape’s source code released, and the code served as the foundation for Mozilla Firefox.

In fact, “Mozilla” was originally the code name for Netscape Navigator, and the reptilian mascot can be found throughout the Mosaic Communications’ website.

If you would like to see an original artefact from the Internet’s history, check out the Mosaic Communications’ website that is still accessible at: