February 26, 1991: When Did the Internet Go Public? (First Web Browser)

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A Brief History

On February 26, 1991, English computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee of the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN of Switzerland) introduced his invention of the WorldWideWeb to the public, the first publicly available internet browser. Berners-Lee is now a professor at Oxford University in England and has authored several books about computers and the internet.

Digging Deeper

In 1989 Berners-Lee had implemented the first successful communication between a server and an HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) user via the internet, and also invented the HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) to support his invention of the WorldWideWeb, developments that made browsing the internet by the public at large possible. When introduced in 1991, the WorldWideWeb (WWW) was the only available internet browser open to the public.

A global map of the web index for countries in 2014

The WorldWideWeb only last until 1994, when the name was changed to NEXUS, in order to eliminate confusion with the World Wide Web. Berners-Lee spearheaded the work to make the internet available to the public at large and continued to work at standardizing systems so that many different computer types and browsers could easily communicate with each other via the internet. During the 1990’s many other browsers were invented and made public, with Mosaic emerging as preeminent by 1993 which had supplanted WorldWideWeb as the main public browser. Also in 993, Berners-Lee released the WorldWideWeb source code into the public domain.

Berners-Lee in 2014

Berners-Lee, born in London in 1955, has a BA from Queen’s College at the University of Oxford, and has been active in education and establishing computer and internet related programs. He is highly decorated with many awards. A staunch advocate of internet neutrality, Berners-Lee believes all governments should treat all internet data equally, and not allow the commercialization of internet priorities that would almost assuredly explode the cost of using the internet to the average person using the net, and greatly cripple small web sites to the benefit of larger and richer websites. (We strongly applaud this stance!)

(Note: Berners-Lee was born into an Anglican family but declined religious participation until he had children (2 with his first wife), becoming a Unitarian Universalist, an extremely loose congregation of religious thought with no set dogma or creed, including even atheists. The Unitarian Universalists accept the ideas of atheists, agnostics, deists, pantheists, and a liberal sprinkling of other schools of spiritual thought, with a focus on spiritual enlightenment and growth, a search for truth and meaning, and an emphasis on love. Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, Humanists, and even pagans are welcomed!)

Tim Berners-Lee certainly stands tall as one of the most influential computer related people of the 20th and 21st Centuries and is still influencing the computer/internet landscape.  Question for students (and subscribers): Who else do you think rivals his importance to your ability to browse the net? What do you think of the net neutrality debate? (If you are not familiar with the debate, please look at our further reading section.)  Please let us know your thoughts in the comments section below this article.

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Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Berners-Lee, Tim. Weaving the Web: The Original Design and Ultimate Destiny of the World Wide Web. Harper Business, 2000.

Committee on the Judiciary United States Senate. Why Net Neutrality Matters: Protecting Consumers and Competition Through Meaningful Open Internet Rules. CreateSpace, 2017.

Knuth, Donald. Booch, Grady. Leaders in Computing: Changing the digital world. BCS, 2011

Sato, June. Net Neutrality: And Why It Should Matter to Everyone. CreateSpace, 2018.

The featured image in this article, a photograph by user:geni of the NeXT Computer used by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International3.0 Unported2.5 Generic2.0 Generic and 1.0 Generic license.


About Author

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.