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The Finns Who Invented the Graphical Browser 148

waderoush writes "If you thought Mosaic was the first graphical Web browser, think again. In their first major interview, three of the four Finnish software engineers behind Erwise — a point-and-click graphical Web browser for the X Window system — describe the creation of their program in 1991-1992, a full year before Marc Andreessen's Mosaic (which, of course, evolved into Netscape). Kim Nyberg, Kari Sydänmaanlakka, and Teemu Rantanen, with their fellow Helsinki University of Technology student Kati Borgers (nee Suominen), gave Erwise features such as text searching and the ability to load multiple Web pages that wouldn't be seen in other browsers until much later. The three engineers, who today work for the architectural software firm Tekla, say they never commercialized the project because there was no financing — Finland was in a deep recession at the time and lacked a strong venture capital or angel investing market. Otherwise, the Web revolution might have begun a year earlier."
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The Finns Who Invented the Graphical Browser

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  • Correction. (Score:5, Informative)

    by jcr ( 53032 ) < .ta. .rcj.> on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @03:19PM (#27054849) Journal

    The first web browser of all was [], and it was a NeXTSTEP program. It was graphical [] from the beginning.


    • I agree with jcr - I used NeXT computers in the early 90's. The proof is what Tim Berner-Lee had to say on the first link that jcr supplied.
    • If you thought Erwise was the first graphical Web browser, think again.
    • Re:Correction. (Score:5, Informative)

      by gEvil (beta) ( 945888 ) on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @03:27PM (#27054951)
      This page [] seems to supply the key point that's missing from the linked article:

      Erwise was a popular web browser in the early days of the World Wide Web. At the time of its release in April 1992, one month prior to ViolaWWW, it was the world's first web browser with a graphical user interface for non-NeXT computers.

      • Re:Correction. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by lastchance_000 ( 847415 ) on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @03:37PM (#27055099)

        So, you're saying that it was the first browser, except for the first one. Got it.

      • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

        Good post.

        What do you call other Hypertext/clickable graphics interfaces like Q-Link (1985) and ANSI (circa 1987)? Is the only key difference between them and a web browser that they were limited to Phoneline connections & not internet connections?

        Aside -

        What to see what BBSing in the late 80s/early 90s was like? Then click here for a demo - the only difference is that our speeds were about one-tenth as fast (1k or 2k modem) - []

        • Thank you for saying that. The Slashdot story is misleading, as often happens. The story says "... a full year before Marc Andreessen's Mosaic...". But there were huge discussions of Hypertext long before that. It was clear that Hypertext would be implemented anywhere it could be used. What those who wrote the first internet browsers did was implement an old idea for the internet.

          Flashterm makes me laugh.
          • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

            Hypertext even goes back to the sixties, where I've seen machines from that era utilize a primitive form of hypertext, even going so far as using a lightpen in conjunction with hypertext on a screen for somewhat graphically highlighting text, before the personal computer was even thought of. So yes, hypertext goes waaay back.
          • Yes, Hypertext was not new in 1993 or even 1991-1992. Hypercard had pretty much the same function set as a web browser (except of course, the network aspect). And before that, other software "knew" about

        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          the only difference is that our speeds were about one-tenth as fast (1k or 2k modem)

          Since you refer to modem speeds as "1k or 2k" then I suspect you weren't really part of that era.
          • 110 baud - skipped that one
            300 baud - acoustic coupler, for phones they don't make anymore.
            2400 - no more phone cups!
            9600 - almost too fast to read (still 80x25 char screens)
            14.4K, maybe 28.8K... I forget. Went to cable around then and never looked back.
            • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

              by retchdog ( 1319261 )

              I had a 300bps non-acoustic coupler modem. It plugged into the cartridge slot of my C=64. There was a 1200bps, but we couldn't afford it. 2400bps was the stuff of legend and I think (?) the absolute limit of the C=64 serial port was 9600. How could it be so fast?! ;-)

              • Hayes Pocket 2400 baud inline modem, FTW!

            • >>>9600 - almost too fast to read (still 80x25 char screens)

              Wow you read fast! At the time most magazines referred to 300 bit/s modems as "reading speed". I could read slightly faster than that, but not as fast as 1200 which zipped across at about one line per 2 seconds. I couldn't keep up.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)


              >>>14.4K, maybe 28.8K... I forget. Went to cable around then and never looked back

              Lucky dude. I was using dialup modems right up to 2007, when they finally installed DSL for $15 a month. I could have gone with cable as early as 1997, but the $120 cost was outrageous. Even now I think $50 a month is too high, and I wish Comcast would offer a lower price tier.

              If anybody cares (and they probably don't) the official V. standards are:

              300 bit/s 300 baud
              1200 bit/s 600 baud
              2400 bit/s 600 baud or 120

              • I know this is off topic, but I figured you might have some insight on this. I remember years ago a friend of mine was at my house and was shocked how "slow" my 2400 bit/s modem was on my 386 compared to his 300 bit/s modem on his C64. I've always wondered if this was true or him just trying to overstate his C64. I never had a modem on my C64 so I really had nothing to compare. I also wonder if it had to do with complexity of BBS software and/or ANSI art between the late 80s vs the early 90s. Any thoug
                • I can't think of any reason why a 2400 speed modem on an 80386 would be slower than a 300 speed on a 6502 Commodore. I suspect your friend was exaggerating, because 300 is very, very slow and I doubt your 2400 modem was running slower than that.

                  I upgraded from a 1200 C=64 to a 2400 Amiga (68000), and as you would expect, it was twice as fast.

              • by Fred_A ( 10934 )

                And then there also were the great Trailblazers, 19200K !
                Asymetric though, can't remember what the downlink speed was. We used those between UUCP nodes back in 2400 days.

          • >>>Since you refer to modem speeds as "1k or 2k" then I suspect you weren't really part of that era.

            Dear AC: It's called rounding. I chose to round to 1k and 2k instead of saying 1.2k and 2.4k to keep my post easy to understand for readers. Clear? Good. Also if you still have doubts I was part of the era, look at my name. (Hint- Commodore=64 was an 80s computer which used 300, 1200, and 2400 baud modems. Yes I was there.)

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by IMightB ( 533307 )

              Get off my Lawn!

              I had to whistle into the phone in my day....

              Actually my first was a 300baud with accoustic coupler....

      • Re:Correction. (Score:5, Informative)

        by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @04:12PM (#27055563) was the first written for NeXt (and first one, period). Erwise was was the first one written for Unix. And Cello (or Mosaic?) was the first one written for Windows. You can try and parse it all you like, but you'll still have to give an American at least some of the credit. Sorry to spoil the pissing contest.
    • Explains why the guys didn't start any lawsuits yet.
    • by pergamon ( 4359 )


      Maybe they'd have the record for the second one, though.

    • by Cruxus ( 657818 )
      Yes, this much is well known. It looks like in the About... box for Erwise they even call it "WorldWideWeb / browser / for the X Window System". They obviously modeled after WorldWideWeb/Nexus for the NeXTStep.
    • by ThrowAwaySociety ( 1351793 ) on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @03:49PM (#27055275)

      WorldWideWeb 1.0 had a windowed, point-and-click UI, so it would be "graphical" compared to, say, Lynx.

      The real title of "first graphical browser" goes to whichever application first displayed inline graphics on a page. I'm not sure exactly which one this was...NCSA Mosaic often gets credit for this, but the feature was also added to later versions of ViolaWWW and WorldWideWeb.

      Inline graphics were a major factor in the success of the Web over existing internet hypertext systems like Gopher.

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Dishevel ( 1105119 )
        Gopher RULED!
        • by carlzum ( 832868 )
          I remember using Mosaic as Gopher client, which I used more than the WWW in my early college days. Other browsers may have supported the protocol, but by the time I starting using Netscape, Gopher's time had passed.
        • by Fred_A ( 10934 )

          Gopher RULED!

          Because with Gopher you could use Veronica !
          (which sounds a bit better than "Google" IMO)

      • Re: (Score:1, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward

        The real title of "first graphical browser" goes to whichever application first displayed inline graphics on a page.

        That would be the browser that invented the <img> tag [].


    • This all really reaks of "holy shit, people could build a GUI in 1990?" FWIW... it's not the web it's browsing, but apple beat them on the concept by 4 years [].

  • Hypercard (Score:1, Informative)

    by MrEricSir ( 398214 )

    Why not just say Hypercard was the first graphical browser?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Calsar ( 1166209 )

      Because it wasn't. The first hypertext system was the Hypertext Editing System created in 1967. The first graphical browser with point and click interface was the NLS system which was part of the Augment project created in 1968 by Doug Engelbart. There weren't any point and click inteface before then because he also created the mouse as part of that project.

    • Because the article specifically says WEB browser?

      Hypercard has got to be one of the first ever implementations of the "hypertext" concept, though. Not applicable to this article, alas.

  • Common... a graphical "gopher" was just a natural step. Hardly news worthy.

  • Since HTTP was thought up at CERN, did they not have a browser? Or was it just text based?
  • by GPLDAN ( 732269 ) on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @03:36PM (#27055091)
    Eric Bina wrote just as much code as Andressen. And Andressen later had help from several other UI students.

    Also, nobody thinks Mosaic was the first. If anything, the card these Finns trump is Tim Bruce, who wrote Cello.

    This is worse than Bill Gates inventing the personal computer, when all he did was steal CP/M. Let's do a little better at getting history correct.
    • Beaten hollow by first browser written by Tim Berners-Lee
          It was the First Browser
          the First Graphical Browser
          the first HTML Editor
          the First Multi window Browser

      The only claim I can see here is Non-NeXT or maybe tabbed .... (NeXT did windows not tabs)

    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
      Cue some European chiming in about how a European programmer did it earlier and better than Thomas Bruce too, in...3...2...1...
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by deKernel ( 65640 )

      This is worse than Bill Gates inventing the personal computer, when all he did was steal CP/M. Let's do a little better at getting history correct.

      No offense, but Bill Gates did not steal CP/M. He had the smarts and vision to purchase a product called 86-DOS [] when other people thought that home computers would be nothing but toys.

      Now I say this as someone who is typically critical of shear number of flaws in Windows and the BILLIONS of dollars spent to develop that ship-wreck. You might not like his products, but you can't argue with his early business savvy.

    • This is worse than Bill Gates inventing the personal computer, when all he did was steal CP/M. Let's do a little better at getting history correct.

      Fair enough.

      But Microsoft was there in the beginning, with the Altair.

      In the eight-bit era, MBASIC was the glue that held dozens of incompatible systems together.

      By 1980 Microsoft was offering a full range of languages for the micro - and poised to move into other markets.

      As for CP/M:

      Microsoft promised to deliver a serviceable OS in time for the projected la

  • by vjmurphy ( 190266 ) on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @03:41PM (#27055149) Homepage

    Despite the company and browser not existing at the time, I can confidently say that Opera had all these features before Erwise. There will be naysayers, of course.

  • Wow and we all though it was Mosaic!
  • whatever... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by The Mayor ( 6048 ) on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @03:43PM (#27055193)

    To tell you the truth, I had never heard of Erwise until today. A have a few questions about Erwise:
    - Did it support graphics other that XBM?
    - Did it render HTML, or some other markup language?

    I did some consulting for a company called HyperMedia Corporation in 1991-92. As part of that work, I watched closely the development of HTML, NCSA Mosaic, and the lot. HMC's markup language was proprietary and binary. The first thing that struck me about HTML was the ease of editing--you didn't need a dedicated editor. Then, I remember seeing early builds of NCSA's browser (to become Mosaic) when they first added, IIRC, gif support. I remember being absolutely floored with the ability to create attractive content in only a few minutes. My first thought after seeing it was, "I need to find a new job!" Sure enough, within a few months HMC was out of business.

    The end result is that there were many factors that led to the success of NCSA Mosaic and Netscape. First, Mosaic ran on platforms other than the X Window System, so it was more accessible. Second, it was among the first to support usable graphics (i.e. not XBM), at least on an accessible platform (Emacs' browser & had early image support, too, but both were on platforms that had very narrow distribution possibilities). Third, it used standard HTML.

    Erwise might have had all of these, with the one caveat that it supported only Unix/X Window System. Hard to say from this article. However, I think it's a little simplistic to say that funding was the only thing holding these guys back from Netscape-like success.

    • by The Mayor ( 6048 )

      OK, just realized the article has 3 pages :-). Looks like it did render HTML. The rest still holds.

  • I'm pretty sure NCSA's Mosaic "evolved" into "Internet Explorer". Netscape's rendering engine was developed separately, wasn't it?
    • by Stormwatch ( 703920 ) <<moc.liamtoh> <ta> <oarigogirdor>> on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @04:12PM (#27055571) Homepage

      I'm pretty sure NCSA's Mosaic "evolved" into "Internet Explorer".

      Not really, at least not directly. Check this: []

      Spyglass licensed the technology and trademarks from NCSA for producing their own web browser but never used any of the NCSA Mosaic source code. Microsoft licensed Spyglass Mosaic in 1995 for US$2 million, modified it, and renamed it Internet Explorer. After a later auditing dispute, Microsoft paid Spyglass $8 million. The 1995 user guide The HTML Sourcebook: The Complete Guide to HTML, specifically states in a section called Coming Attractions, that Explorer "will be based on the Mosaic program" (p. 331). Versions of Internet Explorer before version 7 stated "Based on NCSA Mosaic" in the About box. Internet Explorer 7 was audited by Microsoft to ensure that it contained no Mosaic code, and thus no longer credits Spyglass or Mosaic.

  • by Ritz_Just_Ritz ( 883997 ) on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @03:45PM (#27055221)
  • So... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Quiet_Desperation ( 858215 ) on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @03:46PM (#27055235)

    Who are they suing?

    • n/t

    • by larjon ( 582981 )

      Who are they suing?

      Now, now, these are Finns we're talking about.

      They just clench their fists in their pockets, mumble something about "perkele, saatana", have a sip of Koskenkorva and move on...

  • Does anyone else remember Roboterm []? It was a graphical BBS terminal client (which would show downloaded graphics when talking to a roboterm board). Neat but proprietary:

    • I still have an installable copy of RoboFX.
    • by Phrogman ( 80473 )

      Yes, I ran a Roboterm BBS for a few years, it was miles ahead of regular text/ANSI graphics based BBS software, although it did require a proprietary client (that you could download for free of course) and that turned some people off.

      Its funny that I hadn't ever thought of Roboterm as a precursor to HTML in any way. It was a very clever system and really easily configured etc.

      Sadly, when the WWW emerged, the BBS died a slow death, but something was lost then as well. BBSes created a sense of community that

      • I know what you mean. There used to be different areas where people could discuss a certain topic. They even had the ability to use creative user names instead of their real names! I wish we still had that...
        • by Phrogman ( 80473 )

          When someone logs into my website, I don't hear the modem fire off, with the distinctive sound of a successful handshake, hear my wife groan as I get out of bed to go see who was logging in. Nor can I interrupt their browsing to chat with them directly.

          Yes, I can make a website that lets me know when someone has loaded a page, and I can even venture to say I could make a chat box that appears and lets me chat with them given some time playing with AJAX and php, but its not the same thing, nor does it have t

      • by monk ( 1958 )

        I ran a Telegard (and later Renegade) board, but I enjoyed visiting the Roboterm boards in town. I really miss the sound of that modem connect sometimes.

  • by flyingfsck ( 986395 ) on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @05:06PM (#27056367)
    The venerable Unix info files and even man pages also do the same thing. Web browsers was a logical improvement of existing ideas. It was not evolutionary, not revolutionary.
    • by dkf ( 304284 )

      The venerable Unix info files and even man pages also do the same thing. Web browsers was a logical improvement of existing ideas. It was not evolutionary, not revolutionary.

      Sometimes, the evolutionary is revolutionary. What happens is that a small advance leads to a phase change; things go from being obscure to being world-beating. It's happened before, it will happen again.

  • They didn't get credit because they never Finnished it.

    -1 Slur

  • Can any of this prior art be used to tear apart the existing thousands of software copyrights that have been issued to MS, Sun, IBM, ...? It may not have been commercialized or even copyrighted but if it existed before the Copyright trolls got to it then maybe some of this mess can be undone.
  • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Tuesday March 03, 2009 @05:38PM (#27056739) Homepage Journal

    Or if they tried to profit off it, might have never happened at all.

    The openness of the early days is why we have it today.

  • I created one back in May of 1967. I used Crayola Crayons (tm) and several sheets of paper. My mom published them up on the fridge.

  • to be noted that the "true" history of graphical web browsers started (and will end) with IE...

    "Internet Explorer: what page do you want to rape today?"
  • > Otherwise, the Web revolution might have begun a year earlier.

    OMG! You mean I could have been using myspace a year earlier and I'd have twice as many friends by now?! We could have had lolcats twelve months earlier and my application in the lolcat programming language would already be finished?! It's like a year of my life has been stolen. Who do I sue?

  • by Samah ( 729132 )
    From the "About" box in IE6:

    Based on NCSA Mosaic. NCSA Mosaic(TM); was developed at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Distributed under a licensing agreement with Spyglass, Inc. Contains security software licensed from RSA Data Security Inc. Portions of this software are based in part on the work of the Independent JPEG Group. Multimedia software components, including Indeo(R); video, Indeo(R) audio, and Web Design Effects are provided by Intel Corp. Unix version contains software licensed from Mainsoft Corporation. Copyright (c) 1998-1999 Mainsoft Corporation. All rights reserved. Mainsoft is a trademark of Mainsoft Corporation. Warning: This computer program is protected by copyright law and international treaties. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this program, or any portion of it, may result in severe civil and criminal penalties, and will be prosecuted to the maximum extent possible under the law.

    Seems Netscape is not the only one?

    • Somewhat, according to WP:

      The Internet Explorer project was started in the summer of 1994 by Thomas Reardon and subsequently led by Benjamin Slivka, leveraging source code from Spyglass, Inc. Mosaic, an early commercial web browser with formal ties to the pioneering NCSA Mosaic browser. In late 1994, Microsoft licensed Spyglass Mosaic for a quarterly fee plus a percentage of Microsoft's non-Windows revenues for the software. Although bearing a name similar to NCSA Mosaic, Spyglass Mosaic had used the NCSA Mosaic source code sparingly.

      What MS did to Spyglass [] sort of epitomizes their assholery.

  • Being sad is no excuse for not taking over the world.
  • Here: []

    He also invented the mouse, the GUI, and ARPANET.

    • by antime ( 739998 )
      Douglas Engelbart did not invent hypertext. Vannevar Bush thought up Memex in 1945, and even Ted Nelson's Project Xanadu was started in 1960. There may well be even earlier examples, but those are two well-known ones that precede Engelbart. He also didn't invent GUIs, that honour at least currently goes to Ivan Sutherland who made Sketchpad in 1963.

      AFAIK he also wasn't directly involved in the development of ARPANET, though the first host was running in the Stanford Research Institute's Augmentation Resear
  • [OffTopic]

    These words are different parts of speech, right?
    "This is a graph (noun)."
    "This is a graphic (adjective) representation"

    i'm not sure graphical is a word at all. It doesn't parse to anything meaningful unless you go to graphically. "We are representing this information graphically (adverb, in a graphic way).

    There's no such thing as a graphical, so there couldn't be a graphical designer. Why would it be a graphical interface, and not a graphic interface?

Federal grants are offered for... research into the recreation potential of interplanetary space travel for the culturally disadvantaged.