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Buculei: A history of Mozilla browsers design

On his blog, Nicu Buculei has an interesting retrospective of browser design, complete with screen shots. Readers may or may not agree with his opinions, but the walk down memory lane is fun. "[It's] debatable if their move to rewrite the entire suite from scratch was a good thing or not (on one hand it was a chance to get rid of the old cruft, on the other it was a huge delay), but here I talk only about the design, so the rewrite brought also a new interface and new widgets. At the time there were "milestone release" from the development tree, working to various degrees. It also has a new interface with a "futuristic", non-native, look, to show the power of XUL and allowed for a new feature: theming - at the time making the interface themeable was the rage of the industry, I don't know who invented it, but Winamp (by then also an AOL property, as Netscape) made it really popular."
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Buculei: A history of Mozilla browsers design

Posted Apr 27, 2012 17:22 UTC (Fri) by rsidd (subscriber, #2582) [Link]

That makes me feel old. I not only recognise all those screenshots, but also recognise that the first one is Netscape 4.x -- 3.x and earlier looked quite different. Given that Netscape was always code-named Mozilla (Mosaic+Godzilla, ie Mosaic-eater -- anyone remember what NCSI Mosaic looked like?), he could have reached a little further back into history :)

Buculei: A history of Mozilla browsers design

Posted Apr 27, 2012 17:25 UTC (Fri) by rsidd (subscriber, #2582) [Link]

And an irony: having used Mosaic/Netscape/Mozilla/Firefox for nearly two decades, I'm posting this using Google Chrome...

Buculei: A history of Mozilla browsers design

Posted Apr 27, 2012 17:26 UTC (Fri) by horen (guest, #2514) [Link]

Mosaic? I remember Gopher!

Buculei: A history of Mozilla browsers design

Posted Apr 27, 2012 17:59 UTC (Fri) by drag (subscriber, #31333) [Link]

my first internet experience as a kid was dialing up to the community college using my Mom's account and then using Kermit to connect to Gopher.

Buculei: A history of Mozilla browsers design

Posted Apr 27, 2012 18:02 UTC (Fri) by rsidd (subscriber, #2582) [Link]

OK, LWN is filled with old people :)

I knew of gopher but never used it: it was already on its way out when I first encountered the internet.

Buculei: A history of Mozilla browsers design

Posted Apr 27, 2012 18:50 UTC (Fri) by nowster (subscriber, #67) [Link]

I once heard Gopher described as, "You are in a maze of twisty menus, all alike."

Buculei: A history of Mozilla browsers design

Posted Apr 27, 2012 19:51 UTC (Fri) by daney (subscriber, #24551) [Link]

I guess I am old too. I was in classes at U of M with the people that would be the authors of gopher.

Buculei: A history of Mozilla browsers design

Posted Apr 27, 2012 20:39 UTC (Fri) by allesfresser (subscriber, #216) [Link]

Luxury! :)

Myself, I remember using one of those acoustic coupler things (running at 300 baud if the stars aligned correctly) to log into Tymnet to access The Source. (Way, way, back in the day...) This acoustic coupler was attached to the serial port of a Heathkit H19 terminal that had been built from a kit by my dad. Such memories...

The first time I remember accessing the public TCP/IP internet was in about 1992, through a shell account at crl.com, over a 2400-baud modem from my Mac Classic. This shell account was hosted on a SunOS 4 machine if I remember correctly.

Buculei: A history of Mozilla browsers design

Posted Apr 27, 2012 21:00 UTC (Fri) by utoddl (subscriber, #1232) [Link]

I knew of gopher but never used it: it was already on its way out when I first encountered the internet.

On it's way out? Nobody told me.

I maintain an ancient system that lets folks in my department post system change notices. They get archived and are web accessible. But the system has always -- and still does -- archive the notices in both html- and gopher-ready forms. It's the oldest (to my knowledge) ongoing gopher archive on the net. Granted, it's useless, but it's dead cheap, and I have no intention of killing it, and nobody at or above the director level even knows about it, so it's probably going to be around a long time.

Buculei: A history of Mozilla browsers design

Posted Apr 30, 2012 11:05 UTC (Mon) by bbaetz (subscriber, #42501) [Link]

My first patch to Mozilla was actually implementing gopher support.... Because the university I was going on exchange to (in 2001!) had all of their course information stored on a gopher website, and

Buculei: A history of Mozilla browsers design

Posted Apr 27, 2012 19:59 UTC (Fri) by flewellyn (subscriber, #5047) [Link]

Yep, same here, with my mom's Syracuse University account. Gopher, tin newsreader, pine for email, and lynx for the nascent web.

Buculei: A history of Mozilla browsers design

Posted Apr 30, 2012 5:57 UTC (Mon) by kevinm (guest, #69913) [Link]

Gopher? I hardly knew her!

Happy Run Some Old Browsers Day

Posted Apr 27, 2012 19:21 UTC (Fri) by tialaramex (subscriber, #21167) [Link]

Jamie Zawinski linked images of early Netscape and Mozilla that are suitable for running on a relatively modern system, some time back. Obviously they don't work very well for any modern web site so there's a script to work around that somewhat, and you may have to build a custom page yourself that doesn't use any incompatible new-fangled technologies that might trip them up, like say, standards compliant HTML

http://home.mcom.com/archives/

Happy Run Some Old Browsers Day

Posted Apr 27, 2012 21:49 UTC (Fri) by gnb (subscriber, #5132) [Link]

Entertainingly, the pre-0.9 win16-only browsers run (I won't say "work") on Linux using Wine.

Happy Run Some Old Browsers Day

Posted Apr 28, 2012 9:03 UTC (Sat) by pr1268 (subscriber, #24648) [Link]

I tried Mosaic 0.8 in Wine, and navigated to lwn.net. Instead of LWN's home page, I instead saw the Apache test page (and a bunch of CSS text that the browser [obviously] didn't know how to parse/render). Weird!

Happy Run Some Old Browsers Day

Posted Apr 28, 2012 9:22 UTC (Sat) by Fowl (subscriber, #65667) [Link]

Probably because it doesn't support the HTTP 1.1 Host header.

Happy Run Some Old Browsers Day

Posted Apr 28, 2012 10:57 UTC (Sat) by tialaramex (subscriber, #21167) [Link]

Modern web browsers all implement "virtual" hosts in which the remote web browser is expected to tell the server which host it thinks it is connecting to via a Host: header, so you can run thousands of web sites from a single IP address. This was a vendor extension (maybe from Netscape?) in HTTP/1.0 and became part of the HTTP/1.1 standard. The SSL version of this trick still, many years after it was invented, is not able to be deployed due to poor client support, but the plain HTTP version got lucky.

The link I provided mentions a JWZ blog post, and that blog post contains a script that runs as a dumb proxy or something, to "fix" this issue in early web browsers by synthesising an appropriate header. Disclaimer: I have not tried this workaround.

Virtual Hosts and SSL

Posted May 1, 2012 5:07 UTC (Tue) by pr1268 (subscriber, #24648) [Link]

I thought that the SSL version of virtual hosts didn't (doesn't) exist because of a chicken-or-the-egg situation in which the SSL is underneath the DNS layer (something to do with an IP address resolving to possibly a different host/server name). Or something similar; my memory may be a little cloudy on that...

Virtual Hosts and SSL

Posted May 1, 2012 6:03 UTC (Tue) by dlang (subscriber, #313) [Link]

that is the problem with SSL, but TLS adds an option for the client to tell the server what site they want before the SSL negotiation take place. This feature is called SNI (Service Name Indicator or something like that)

unfortunately there are still a lot of old browsers out there that don't support it (IE6 among them) and as a result, almost nobody uses the option.

Virtual Hosts and SSL

Posted May 1, 2012 10:12 UTC (Tue) by cortana (subscriber, #24596) [Link]

FYI it's "server name indication". I believe the only significant client that can't use it is Internet Explorer on Windows XP, due to MS' unwillingness to backport the SNI feature to XP's SSL library.

Virtual Hosts and SSL

Posted May 1, 2012 10:46 UTC (Tue) by nye (guest, #51576) [Link]

>I believe the only significant client that can't use it is Internet Explorer on Windows XP, due to MS' unwillingness to backport the SNI feature to XP's SSL library

Also Chrome on Windows XP, because the Chrome team like to use the native platform features where possible.

(What's that you say? They should bundle their own libraries? :P)

Buculei: A history of Mozilla browsers design

Posted Apr 27, 2012 22:46 UTC (Fri) by paravoid (subscriber, #32869) [Link]

Someone actually went through the trouble and put NCSA Mosaic 2.7b5 into github and put patches on top of it that make it compile in a modern distribution: https://github.com/ricudis/mosaic

Buculei: A history of Mozilla browsers design

Posted Apr 28, 2012 8:13 UTC (Sat) by lkundrak (subscriber, #43452) [Link]

http://v3.sk/~lkundrak/mosaic/ i have done that too. The package for Fedora is readily available from RPM Fusion.

Buculei: A history of Mozilla browsers design

Posted Apr 28, 2012 19:33 UTC (Sat) by jzbiciak (subscriber, #5246) [Link]

I remember lamenting when the UNIX / Linux version of Netscape stopped using Motif widgets, backfilling the URL bar with that nice wine color. Amazingly, I found someone with some screenshots. (I believe that was when their unofficial slogan was something along the lines of "Remember: It's spelled N-E-T-S-C-A-P-E but it's pronounced Mozilla.")

And, I'll never forget that crazy throbbing N they had for a short while...

I also remember NCSA Mosaic, but only barely. It's what I first used on the Suns. It had that crazy S-shaped "throbber" with the globe in the middle and the animated sparks, as I recall.

Speaking of old-school... I still remember finding a hole in one of our Gopher "terminals". IIRC, our school had a serial terminal that offered a Gopher client via one of the Sun SparcStations. It was meant just as a general-access terminal. It used less to display long pages. Someone forgot to disable shell-escaping from less...

Buculei: A history of Mozilla browsers design

Posted May 7, 2012 22:00 UTC (Mon) by jschrod (subscriber, #1646) [Link]

NCSA Mosaic? That young trendy upcoming stuff? Where Viola was so much better since it had typed links and made available something like HyperCard outside a Mac environment? :-) :-)

While we're reminiscencing... I started to work on free software in 1982 -- on TeX actually, and I still work on it ;-) -- and we sent tapes around. Anybody still remembers DECUS, the DEC Users Group? Their tapes were very important.

Later we got Bitnet and were able to access ftp servers by email. (A Google search for my Bitnet address XITIJSCH@DDATHD21 still finds 314 results, after more than 2 decades.) Usenet via uucp gave us the ability to participate in real discussions, at the same time. Real Internet (TCP/IP) connectivity actually came quite late, and the World Wide Web came even later.

Buculei: A history of Mozilla browsers design

Posted Apr 28, 2012 5:02 UTC (Sat) by kmike (guest, #5260) [Link]

Doesn't anyone have an issue with the article spin that community-based Mozilla project was somehow hindered by very engineers that were working on it, and that was it demise? (never mind that founders of Firefox were Netscape engineers, too)

Buculei: A history of Mozilla browsers design

Posted Apr 28, 2012 14:33 UTC (Sat) by pboddie (guest, #50784) [Link]

I have to say that I found the article rather superficial, although I didn't know about BlueGriffon, so I did get something unexpected out of it.

With regard to whether it was right to reboot Mozilla, especially with hindsight it seems ridiculous to even question the decision: the existence of Gecko-based browsers made the Free Software desktop viable and kept it alive, even though KHTML (and eventually WebKit) offered a decent alternative for KDE users and people who didn't mind installing the KDE library stack. Any continued reliance on the occasional air-drop of proprietary Netscape browsers would have made for a precarious position indeed.

Buculei: A history of Mozilla browsers design

Posted Apr 30, 2012 7:15 UTC (Mon) by epa (subscriber, #39769) [Link]

The question isn't whether it was right for Netscape to release its code as free software; the question is whether it made sense to essentially throw away the existing Netscape code and start from scratch. It took years to get back to a usable (and fast enough) browser, during which time Internet Explorer all but took over the web. It might have been better to do bug fixes only for a month or two and release Mozilla 1.0 based on the existing Netscape codebase.

Buculei: A history of Mozilla browsers design

Posted Apr 30, 2012 10:12 UTC (Mon) by roc (subscriber, #30627) [Link]

The Netscape code sucked.

It probably would have lost to IE6 anyway.

Buculei: A history of Mozilla browsers design

Posted Apr 30, 2012 12:19 UTC (Mon) by pboddie (guest, #50784) [Link]

Given that people (like me, I guess) are not too willing to dive into the current Mozilla codebase to fix random stuff, I'm not sure how happy people in the community would have been fixing up the old Netscape code. In any case, the timeline on Wikipedia is instructive:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timeline_of_web_browsers

I was using Netscape 4.x and then probably switched to Konqueror in KDE 2 and Mozilla 1.x (depending on what computer I was using), and I recall running Mozilla 0.x and even milestone releases before that. Mozilla managed to become usable as hardware caught up and optimisations were presumably made (unlike stuff like Eclipse, I would say).

The transition probably took a year too long at the very least, but I'd say it was effort well invested. The unfortunate thing is that the community probably undervalued the need for a Free Software browser until Netscape's products started to languish. And Internet Explorer benefited most from being bundled with every computer, with the only real solution being the one never taken by the feeble regulators: to unbundle the operating system.

Buculei: A history of Mozilla browsers design

Posted Apr 28, 2012 15:09 UTC (Sat) by drag (subscriber, #31333) [Link]

> Doesn't anyone have an issue with the article spin that community-based Mozilla project was somehow hindered by very engineers that were working on it, and that was it demise? (never mind that founders of Firefox were Netscape engineers, too)

I believe the intention of the author was to point out how Netscape was sabotaging the user interface of the Mozilla suite in order to differentiate it from the consumer version of Netscape.

It had nothing to do with the source code or developers, per say. The article was focused on UI changes.


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