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World Wide Web At 20: 12 Milestones

Two decades ago, the first Web page came to life. These milestones for users and developers have made the Web what it is today.

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Twenty years ago, the first website was published by the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known by its French acronym CERN. To mark the occasion, the research group has restored the spare-looking site.

Web technology was first proposed in 1989 by Tim Berners-Lee, a British physicist working at CERN. Following development and implementation, the Web was made publicly accessible in 1991.

On April 30, 1993, CERN made its Web technology available on a royalty-free basis. Royalty demands for competing information retrieval systems such as Gopher contributed to the adoption of the Web.

[ What is it like to wear Google's new high-tech glasses? Read Google Glass: First Impressions. ]

CERN's first Web page, describing the World Wide Web, contains only the most basic hypertext markup. Since it was published, Web technology has continued to evolve. These 12 milestones have made the Web what is is today.

1. Images. February 1993: Marc Andreessen proposes the IMG tag, the HTML element that allows Web browsers to display pictures. Without images, the Web would have been a far drearier place.

2. The Web Goes Free. April 1993: CERN gives the Web to the public. No one likes paying royalties.

3. Mosaic For All. September 1993: The National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) releases versions of the Mosaic browser for the X Window System, Microsoft Windows and Apple Macintosh. Mosaic's availability on popular commercial operating systems opens the Web to those outside computer science.

4. Java. May 1995: Marc Andreessen, then executive VP of Netscape Communications, says the Netscape browser will support Java. Two years later, Sun would sue Microsoft for attempting to subvert Java. And years later, Google would base Android on Java, to the consternation of Oracle, which acquired Java when it bought Sun in early 2010.

5. JavaScript. September 1995: Netscape Navigator 2.0 ships with LiveScript, subsequently renamed JavaScript. JavaScript makes websites interactive. Without it, we wouldn't have modern Web apps.

6. Shockwave And Flash. 1995: The Macromedia Shockwave plug-in for Netscape Navigator 2.0 is released, laying the groundwork for more plug-in technology. Adobe buys Macromedia that same year and comes to promote Flash, released in 1996, alongside Shockwave, as another technology for presenting rich graphics on the Web. Apple's Steve Jobs puts an end to Adobe's platform ambitions in 2010. The Web is still recovering from its dalliance with proprietary technology.

7. Microsoft Internet Explorer. August 1996: Microsoft Internet Explorer would come to dominate the Web until 2004, when Mozilla's Firefox appeared.

8. Inline Frames. 1997: Microsoft introduces the IFRAME element, which allows Web pages to get content from different sources. It proves to be well suited for online advertising.

9. Mozilla Firefox. November 2004: Mozilla releases Firefox. The competition has an edge: Microsoft Internet Explorer has a global market share of more than 90%. By 2011, Firefox has close to a quarter of browser market share and Internet Explorer's market share has fallen to almost half what it was. Mozilla demonstrated the value of innovation.

10. Apple iPhone. June 2007: Apple puts the Internet in people's pockets and sells everyone on its curated app store model. The Android ecosystem follows while Microsoft struggles to adjust to the new world order. Steve Jobs banishes Flash. Web designers have to rethink everything. Mobile is now what matters.

11. HTML5. January 2008: The initial draft of HTML5 is introduced. The evolving Web specification adds ways to deal with touch input, to store data, to access files, to operate offline, to communicate in real-time and to present graphics more efficiently, as well as a variety of other innovations.

12. Google Chrome. September 2008: Google recognizes that it has to have a browser, to prevent dependence on Apple, Microsoft and Mozilla. Google makes a browser that's fast, stable and secure and it updates its browser far more often than its competitors. In 2011, Google Chrome becomes more popular than Firefox and in 2012, it becomes more popular than Internet Explorer.

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User Rank: Apprentice
5/6/2013 | 3:53:50 PM
re: World Wide Web At 20: 12 Milestones
Whoa, Mr. Claburn! You are off by 10 years! Adobe did not buy Macromedia until 2005, with the sole intent of acquiring Flash. I know, because Adobe left a lot of us Macromedia Freehand users very unhappy when it discontinued the vector illustration program in favor of Illustrator.
Thomas Claburn
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
5/3/2013 | 11:42:01 PM
re: World Wide Web At 20: 12 Milestones
That shift involved what used to be known as Ajax. It probably deserves mention on the list, but it's captured in some ways in the JavaScript entry. I see Ajax sort of as a dry run for HTML5. YouTube has a lot to do with Flash video. And the business models deserve their own list, apart from the tech.
User Rank: Apprentice
5/3/2013 | 5:13:53 PM
re: World Wide Web At 20: 12 Milestones
One always faces compromises when writing a list like this. I wonder how to characterize the dot com boom and bust, where hundreds of small companies tried to make their business models work on the web (ordering groceries, anyone?) and many were ahead of their time. Perhaps a note about YouTube, and the advent of video streaming to a wide audience. When did the web move from being mostly one-way information browsing (web 1.0) to interaction, including web forums (web 2.0)?
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