The Beginnings of Netscape
In early 1993, the NCSA at the University of Illinois released the first popular graphical web browser. They called the browser NCSA Mosaic. This browser was the start of the internet boom period in the early 1990s. Marc Andreessen, a developer who co-wrote the original platform, left shortly after the release of Mosaic to form his own company. Along with James H. Clark and former students and staff of the University of Illinois—Mosaic Communications was born in 1994.
Mosaic Communications worked on its first major project, a browser with the internal codename of “Mozilla.” Sounds familiar, right? It was a combination of the names “Mosaic” and “Godzilla.” Mosaic released its browser in late 1994 and took over close to three quarters of the market within 4 months. This made it the most popular web browser of the 1990s. The browser was quickly renamed Netscape Navigator and the company Netscape Communications. This was to avoid any future trademark problems with NCSA about Mosaic.
But Andreessen wanted more. He felt that even though the web browser was at the top of the internet game, he saw the future of the web being more dynamic. He saw animations, interactions, and various forms of small automation in the future of the internet. To provide that, the web would need a complimentary scripting language that could interact with the Document Object Model. It would also need to cater to a specific type of programmer—the designer.
NOTE: For those that are not familiar with the DOM, it provides access to the browser’s session history. It also provides users with the methods and properties to move back and forth in the browser.
Competition Steps In
Netscape Communications continued its reign at the top of the web market with the Navigator browser. Soon after, the competition began to step in with their response. Microsoft wanted to set the bar and be the standard in all technology.
In response, Microsoft released Internet Explorer in 1995. This development was their first step towards monopolizing the Web back then. Andreessen and Netscape Communications did not take that threat lightly. They had to act fast to build a response to keep them as the most reliable web browser in the world. They knew they had to release a new language and developments as soon as possible. This sparked what was then known as the browser wars.
First, they contracted technologist Brendan Eich to develop a language for the browser like Scheme. Scheme is a Lisp programming language that is dynamic, powerful and functional in nature. Netscape also formed a partnership with Sun Microsystems, the original founders of Java. Sun pushed their way into the browser wars by leveraging this partnership with their updated vision of Java. Unfortunately for them, it was way ahead of its time with the limited developments of the internet in the early 1990s.
Sun partnered with Netscape in 1995 to provide the Java language as a complementary language for what Eich was developing. Now with the strategic plans set, the competition against Microsoft was on.
Everyone involved wanted a language to cater to designers that would still be accessible to non-developers. Netscape also needed to provide a proper prototype to be able to defend against competitors with their browser experience. Originally named Mocha, the language created by Eich aimed to turn the web into a full-fledged application platform. Mocha provided small scripting tasks for web designers, becoming a companion for Java.
It took Eich 10 days to develop the programming language requested by Netscape. The end result was nothing like Scheme, but more like a very dynamic, updated version of Java. Underneath was a technological beast that was a mix of Scheme and Self, but with the look of Java.
This release produced many modifications from various companies, including Microsoft, Adobe, and Google. Languages like ActionScript and JScript were some of the implementations of the ECMAScript at the time.