Ancient Web Browsers

Last updated: 23 Jul 2022

This is an archive of the very earliest Web browsers -- the true pioneers, the Old Gods, the Ancients:

WorldWideWeb, LineMode, Viola, Erwise, Midas, TkWWW, Samba, Lynx, w3, FineWWW

What makes a browser ancient ? Since Mosaic popularized the Web (or as another source puts it, "set the Web free"), it makes a good benchmark. Mosaic for X 1.2, which appears to be the most widely-distributed early version, was released in June 1993. Mosaic for X 2.0, along with the first versions for Macintosh and Windows, was released in November 1993. So, I'd say anything from before mid-1993 clearly qualifies, arguably extending into early 1994.

Why search for and collect the earliest versions? For the same reasons we keep physical objects in museums. Source code is an artifact. Artifacts are history. Let's preserve these artifacts.

Below are links to everything I've been able to find. Please help me locate missing browsers and versions.

Also included are some notes on my attempts to build and run these programs and screenshots of the browsers in action. At least one early version of almost every browser archived here will build on NeXTStep 3.3 in Previous with (where necessary) CubXWindow and LessTif.

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See also:


Missing Browsers

These browsers may be lost. (They are mentioned by TimBL in various places.) Please let me know if you have sources or binaries for any of these browsers:


WorldWideWeb/Nexus

The very first browser, written by the person who invented the Web.

This project is experimental and of course comes without any warranty whatsoever. However, it could start a revolution in information access.

-- TimBL, 20 August 1991

Tim Berners-Lee's WorldWideWeb/Nexus is more readily available still than most other ancient browsers. Even so, very early versions are difficult to come by. I've archived available versions up to 1.0 here.

WorldWideWeb 0.12 showing its default home page on NeXTStep 3.3
WorldWideWeb 0.12 showing its default home page on NeXTStep 3.3

These archives all include M68K NeXTStep binaries, so they run, but I can't get them to successfully make GET requests to the outside world.


LineMode

Nicola Pellow's original portable browser.

LineMode 0.11a showing its default home page
LineMode 0.11a showing its default home page

Version 0.11 builds but does not GET. Version 2.11 builds and works. A complete dated version history is available.


ViolaWWW

Pei Wei's adaptation of his Viola language application for HTML; also the recommended browser within CERN for a time.

ViolaWWW from 1994 (despite what the info box says) on NeXTStep 3.3 with CubXWindow
ViolaWWW from 1994 (despite what the info box says) on NeXTStep 3.3 with CubXWindow

I have been able to find three versions of Viola: one from 1992, one from 1994, and a third (final?) version from 1995. I've only been able to build the 1994 version.

There's also a Sun binary I have not been able to test -- please let me know if you're able to run it!


Erwise

The work of Finnish students Kim Nyberg, Teemu Rantanen, Kati Suominen, and Kari Sydänmaanlakka.

Erwise 0.1 (or 1.0?) with running on Ubuntu 9.10
Erwise 0.1 (or 1.0?) with running on Ubuntu 9.10

Erwise was distributed as source and as binaries for Sun and Ultrix. The binaries show "Version 0.1 Alpha" in their info panels, whereas the compiled source's info panel shows "Version 1.0 Alpha." The binaries are from late March 1992, and the source is from July 25, making version progression plausible. On the other hand, the source directory unpacks to erwise-0.1, and the www-talk message announcing the only release is dated July 26 -- one day after the source code -- and refers to version 0.1.

This builds most easily (in my experience) of all the truly ancient browsers besides LineMode, but it actually runs successfully on very few platforms (due possibly to Motif implementation issues that were reportedly a problem at the time).

Thanks to Roy at RT’s Free Soft we have source and a binary that (I can confirm) runs on Ubuntu 9.10 (2009) with Lesstif2 installed.

[Ubuntu runs GCC 4.4.1, and Roy's changes to the original source code are minimal, so I suspect that this will build on any system that has GCC 4.x.]


MidasWWW

Tony Johnson of SLAC's Motif browser, notable for its ability to display postscript files.

MidasWWW 1.0 with Kostas Michalopoulos's patches on Debian Stretch via Valgrind
MidasWWW 1.0 with Kostas Michalopoulos's patches on Debian Stretch via Valgrind

Here is Johnson writing presciently about the Web in late 1994 in SLAC's Beam Line quarterly magazine:

At worst [the World Wide Web] may just become a glorified video delivery system and integrated home shopping network with a built-in method of tracking your purchases and sending you personalized junk e-mail. At its best such as system could provide truly interactive capabilities, allowing not only large corporations and publishers but also individuals and communities to publish information and interact through the network, while maintaining individual privacy. The outcome will have a major impact on the quality of life in the 21st century, influencing the way we work, play, shop, and even how we are governed.

The source for version 1.0 was recovered and posted to Github in 2015 by Dan Connolly. It was patched to (partially) run on (some) modern (32 bit) systems by Kostas Michalopoulos, as detailed on Reddit.

Unfortunately, MidasWWW (1.0) displays rather than ignores HTML tags it doesn't recognize, making it completely unsuitable for browsing even basic modern pages.


TkWWW

Joseph Wang's excellent Tcl/Tk browser/editor.

TkWWW 0.12 on NeXTStep 3.3 with CubXWindow and Tcl7.4/Tk4.0
TkWWW 0.12 on NeXTStep 3.3 with CubXWindow and Tcl7.4/Tk4.0

TkWWW 0.12 builds on NeXTStep 3.3 with CubXWindow and Tcl7.4/Tk4.0; earlier versions of TkWWW seem to require earlier Tcl/TK versions. Here are my build notes for version 0.12.


MacWWW/Samba

Nicola Pellow and Robert Cailliau's browser for the Macintosh. No sources, although apparently source code was distributed at one point. (This was reportedly released as a commercial product by CERN, costing 50 .)

MacWWW 1.03 running on Mac OS 7.5.3
MacWWW 1.03 running on Mac OS 7.5.3


Lynx

Lou Montulli, Michael Grobe, and Charles Rezac's famous terminal browser. Like ViolaWWW, Lynx was initially developed as an independent hypertext system; WWW capabilities were added later. Lynx now has the distinction of being the oldest continuously-maintained web browser.

Lynx 2.1
Lynx 2.1

Change logs indicate that the ability to read HTML documents was added to Lynx in a revision dated March 9th, 1993. The earliest version I can find came nine months later: version 2.1.1.


X Mosaic

Since I define "ancient" by reference to predating Mosaic, I only archive versions of it up to 1.0 here.

Mosaic 1.0 running on Ubuntu 9.10
Mosaic 1.0 running on Ubuntu 9.10