Sometimes it’s hard to label a product or service that truly changed the world after its release. However, it can definitely be said that the release of the Mosaic web browser did just that. After an initial release in January 1993, version 1.0 of Mosaic was launched 30 years ago this month on April 22, 1993.
Let’s get this part out of the way: Mosaic wasn’t the first web browser ever released. That honor belongs to the World Wide Web, which was launched a few years ago in 1990. By developer Tim Berners-Lee when he worked at CERN.. Later other browsers like Viola and Cello were launched. However, the mosaic was different.
The browser was first developed by Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina while they were graduate students at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Unlike earlier web browsers, which displayed text and images in separate windows, Mosaic’s greatest innovation was its ability to display both text and images in a single window. It made viewing websites as if you were reading a magazine page.
Mosaic let users click on hyperlinks to go to other pages or sites instead of manually typing in URL addresses, it had a user interface design that was easy to understand. Familiar buttons for going back or forward through sites or refreshing a page were now present alongside the mosaic.
While originally launched for Unix systems, Mosaic versions were later released in 1993 for Windows and Macintosh. Closed Internet services such as AOL, Compuserve, Prodigy, and other online services that emerged in the 1980s gradually faded away. All you needed to access the internet was an ISP and Mosaic installed. gave NCSA’s official mosaic website states that by December 1993 “more than 5,000 copies of the browser were being downloaded a month and the center was receiving millions of e-mail inquiries a week.” Keep in mind that this is an era where most homes can only connect to the Internet with a 28.8k phone modem.
In 1994, the US National Science Foundation began funding further development of Mosaic. However, the writing was still on the wall for web browsers to be discontinued. Later that year, Mosaic co-creator Marc Andreessen left NCSA and helped found Mosaic Communications Corporation.
The company released its first browser in late 1994, called Mosaic Netscape. NCSA threatened the new company with legal action for using the Mosaic brand for the browser and company. The browser was eventually named Netscape Navigator, and the company was renamed Netscape Communications Corporation.
Netscape quickly became the browser of choice for most Internet users, which meant that Mosaic was being downloaded and used less and less. As a result, in January 1997, NCSA ceased development of the web browser. Of course, Netscape soon had to deal with Microsoft’s efforts with its own Internet Explorer browser, but that’s a whole different story we can write about another day. Netscape met its end in 2008.
While NCSA discontinued its development, the organization continues to be proud of Mosaic. 10 years after its official launch, it held a birthday party for the browser. Rick Rashid, founder of Microsoft Research, was one of the guests at the event.
Although Mosaic was ultimately a short-lived computer application, it certainly had a huge impact on the Internet and the world in general. Even in this world of apps and social networks, websites remain our primary way of accessing information online. Mosaic’s features of combining words and images on a web page, its use of embedded hyperlinks, and its standard UI are fundamental to all later web browsers. National Science Foundation article on mosaicsPosted in 2004, summarizes its impact.
“Without Mosaic, web browsers might not be what they are or what they are today,” said Peter Freeman, NSF assistant director of CISE. “The development of the Web and its impact on everyday life demonstrate the dramatic payoff that NSF’s investment in computer science research can have for all sectors of science and engineering, education, and society as a whole. “
This effect holds true even in 2023, and will continue to be felt for years to come.