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The True Story of the Internet -Browser Wars- Part 1 of 4

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You know, us humans we’ve been pretty busy these past few millennia, since whenever it was we stop dragging our knuckles on the ground, and made the great leap forward from chimpanzee to homo sapiens. We’ve made a lot of mischief, that’s for sure, we’ve also created some pretty cool gear, which kind of got me thinking: Thousand of years from now, when learned scholars gazed back and tried to list the most important, transformative, world changing inventions in the history of humanity, what’s likely to make the cut? The electric light bulb? The steam engine? The internal combustion engine? the airplane, the automobile, and of course, sliced bread. But right up there in the Pantheon, along side all that stuff, there’s a more recent breakthrough, a new invention that came out of nowhere and in a few short years went through all our lives like a Bengali typhoon. The invention in question is, of course, the World Wide Web, an amazing and surreal universe that spun huge fortunes attended capless industries and changed the way that much of the world works, plays, communicates, shops, and even falls in love. My name is John Heileman, I’m here to tell you the story of the web’s rise from obscurity to global ubiquity. It’s a tale I know like the back of my hand, because as a journalist I had a ringside seat for the whole shebang. For more than a decade I was right here in Silicon Valley, witnessing up close the moments that shaped the Internet age. That age began with a vicious power struggle to decide who would control the future of the just emerging web. -“Jim Clark starts, literally pounding the table it’s like we have to take this thing public, we have to take it public right now”. - “At closing trading I had made $663 million”. A struggle that what end with an epic court room battle. -“I have no idea what you’re talking about”. And that would forever be remembered as the browser war. -“We were like a deer in the headlights with Microsoft in front of us, so you know, what do we do, what do we do”. - “It was all hands on deck, this is not a drill”. -“They’re gonna crush us, they’re gonna crush us!”. -“We have to destroy this company”. Now today we are all used to the web, with its fancy video and graphics and sound. - “Well one mouse click can send us rolling down a new path”. -“Who knows where we’ll end up”. But back in the early 90’s the web was very different, it was basically just an obscure research network, invented a few years earlier by an English scientist called Tim Berners-Lee. There were precious few web pages and the ones that did exist consisted of nothing but line after line of boring text. -“You had to be a big time geek to get all excited about this thing”. But one of those geeks, a visionary University of Illinois computer science student, named Marc Andreessen, had a crazy idea, he imagined a future where everyone, including regular people like you and me, would use the web as part of our daily lives. -“Andreessen worked in a typical merman and he was working on a different product and then he got a little wild about this thing called the web”. -“The Internet at that point was really only for nerds. It was really only for academics and researchers and scientists and there wasn’t anything that ordinary people could do on it, but it’s was so useful to the people who where using that I think that everybody should be able to use it”. -“But he was like, “hey man this stuff is gonna change the world, it’ll be great, you know it’s global hyper media and so, it’s so like, yeah ok whatever. Andreessen may have been the most excitable but soon enough that he and a bunch of his college programming pals were working on make the web easier and more intuitive to use, adding images, pictures, audio and video capabilities. The fruit of their labors was this, a dead simple piece of point and click software, the world’s first graphical web browser, and every time that you use surf internet today, you’re using one of its descendents. In the fall of 1993 the Illinois geeks posted Mosaic online and made it a freely downloadable gift to humanity, and what a gift it turned out to be. When we first posted the announcement on a newspaper and I used a newspaper at that point, and I just said: does anyone wanna be a part of beta effort? and then I got back twelve responses as so I sent the browser to twelve people. And then it just spread virally from there so just spread from twelve to a hundred, to a thousand, to 10 thousand, to 100 thousand, to a million. This was the moment when the Internet went from obscurity to ubiquity, from a toy for geeks and a tool for scientists to a bonified mass media, a bunch of twenty something code crunching, burger gosling kids had kick-started a revolution. But before Mosaic could go truly global and imperil Bill Gates and Microsoft it needed one more ingredient, a giant heaping pile of cash. This extremely expensive building was a gift to Stanford University from this man, one of its former professors: Jim Clark. A poor kid from West Texas part was a high school drop-out who turned himself to a computer science professor at Stanford, then founded a company called Silicon Graphics that made him a legend in the valley. He had a taste for fast cars, expensive wine and mid-air death defying antics like flying a stunt plane. The first time we met, in fact, he took me on a helicopter ride and nearly killed us both. But having just left Silicon Graphics, Clark was looking for something new, something big and when he saw Mosaic, he quickly became convinced that he had found it. -“I had spent a lot of years thinking about the convergence of different kinds of media with digital technology and so it just sort of crystallized my mind that the Internet and the World Wild Web were gonna be the thing that ushered in that convergence”. Wasting no time, Clark contacted Marc Andreessen, who had graduated from college in high tech out of Illinois straight to a job in Silicon Valley. February 94 I’m at work and I get an e-mail from Jim Clark saying “I think I wanna get started a new software company, do you wanna get together and talk?”. And so I said, you know, well, this is interesting So I broke my number one rule of not getting up before noon and got up and had breakfast with him at 7 am. In the months that followed, Marc and Clark became inseparable as they plotted how to turn Mosaic into the basis of a business venture. But this obviously wasn’t something that they could do by themselves, they needed a team and soon they were on a plane for Illinois and recruiting trip that would spark the start of the Internet age. -“We hopped on a plane and arrived late one evening and met everyone on a pizza prowler and sat there and had a beer and some pizza, and just kind of talked about generally what we thought”. -“I think we were all a little intimidated to tell the truth, ‘cause he’s, he was this big Silicon Valley guy, relatively famous, had founded a very large computer company, everyone knows he’s got a lot of money and is coming out here, he, he, he listened”. -“I didn’t have a concept of how we would make money at the time, but its like so many other things, if there that many people using something and it had grown to a million users in a period of 9 months, there is gonna be a way to make money out of it, but this guys had no clue”. What Clark cared about right now, was getting the Illinois geeks on board, so he made them an offer beyond their wildest dreams. -“Each of us counts back a little story, had our little days, you know, for me just, in junior year of university, you know, I was just like, yeah you know, getting a full time job offer before I’ve been graduated, for that kind of money, its like oh! Wow yeah men! Why wanna turn that down, you know”. In high insight it might seem obvious that the web browser would change the world, but although Jim Clark may have grasped high insight most people didn’t, including the one person you would’ve expected to get it immediately: Bill Gates. Gates, of course, was the co-founder and CEO of Microsoft, the most important and fantastically profitable hi-tech company of them all. On the course of two decades Microsoft had established a near monopoly over PC operating systems, and had used that monopoly to gain a vice-like grip over the entire computer industry. The web was cyber spaced as a wide open road, fast moving and exhilarating and it would take you absolutely anywhere that your curiosity led you. But Bill Gates thought that the information highway should be a toll road in which Microsoft controled all the toll groups and we would all have to pay to drive. Thanks a lot. Gates’ online system was called, surprise surprise, the Microsoft network, and in 1994 lots of smart people assumed that he was succeed and foisting on the world, like he usually did. Here was the information super-highway that futurists had been predicting for years and although Gates didn’t realize it yet, his worst nightmare was about to come true, a gang of kids as young and ambitious as he himself had once been were about to threaten everything he stood for, and everything that Microsoft had achieved. Brilliant, spectacled and obsessed with computers since his boyhood, Bill Gates’ journey to becoming the most powerful figure in technology began in 1975 when, at the age of 19 he dropped-out of Harvard to start Microsoft with his high school pal, Paul Allen. Gates’ visual was simple, and wildly ambitious, a PC on every desktop, in every home, in every office, and every one of those PCs is running Microsoft software. By 1993 his dream was tantalizingly close to becoming reality, about 90% of the world’s PCs were running Microsoft Windows. Gates and the army that hit a mast on Microsoft’s sprawling campuses in suburban Seattle worked insanely hard, and they played very rough with their rivals. The company’s rise had left the trail of corpses in its wake. There was Lotus, there was Word Perfect, there was Borland, there was Novell, even mighty IBM, all brought to their knees. Gates was now one of the richest and most influential men on Earth, and he knew it. One night at a dinner party, he and some friends were discussing the election of Bill Clinton as President, and Gates spluttered out “I have as much power as the President does”, his wife kicked him under the table when she heard that. But the truth of it was, he might have been right. To many, Gates’ power was seductive, irresistible. If you were a young, hungry software engineer, like Thomas Rier or Javi Portovi, or a seasoned executive like Sam Yedala, Microsoft was the place to be. A place where it didn’t matter if you were handsome or athletic, a place were smartness, measured by the ability to crank out at the killer code was the only...

Video Details

Duration: 10 minutes and 43 seconds
Country: United States
Language: English
License: Public Domain
Producer: Discovery Channel
Director: Discovery Channel
Views: 382
Posted by: arjuna on Jul 6, 2008

This is the story of an epic battle between America’s mightiest corporation and a small group of “computer geeks” who created a revolutionary technology.

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