Visual Web Browser

Tim Berners-Lee original world wide web was entirely text-based, mainly used to link textual papers to one another.


Marc Andreesen, then a student at the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, extended Andreesen’s HTML. Andreesen extended the original HTML, adding components describing not only the contents of a page but also how it should be laid out.

Andreesen created a web-browser that is graphical, which assembled the text into what looked like a document on-screen. He named his visual web browser Mosaic.

Mosaic quickly gained in popularity, creating a surge of interest in the web. Eventually, Andreesen left school for Silicon Valley to commercialize the product, renaming it Netscape.


However, Andreesen failed to receive intellectual property releases from his school. They worked out an arrangement for Netscape but also licensed the technology freely, including and most importantly to Microsoft.

Thereafter, Microsoft bundled a free web browser (Netscape initially sold their browser) into the then-dominant Windows operating system. Microsoft’s Internet Explorer quickly became the leading web browsing software in an era known as the “browser wars.”

Netscape eventually folded, unable to compete with Microsoft’s free browser and failing to find a different workable strategy.

Years later, Netscape released their software as open-source. Eventually, the non-profit Mozilla Foundation adopted it and the browser lives on as Firefox.

Besides fueling the early internet, Netscape also fueled internet investing mania. The company went public on Aug. 9, 1995, about a year after it was founded. At that time, young companies did not offer shares and companies without profits never sold shares. Defying both conventions, Netscape offered shares at $28 and closed the day at $58.25, touching $74.75 at one point. Dot-com mania ensued. Andreesen went on to become a successful entrepreneur and investor in other areas.

Today, the most popular browsers, Google’s Chrome and Apple’s Safari, are both open-source projects. As of 2019, Microsoft announced plans to eventually shutter the last proprietary closed-source web browser.

One important note: Engelbert’s “Mother of all Demos” demonstrated combined text and graphics, with hyperlinks, in 1968.


The first microcomputer, the Altair 8800, was like a French bulldog. That is, it was ugly, expensive, and not all that bright, but people loved it. The Altair didn’t even have a display, just LED’s that lit up. Most significantly, it served as the inspiration for a small number of future computer entrepreneurs.

The cover of the January 1975 issue of Popular Electronics featured the Altair 8800, the “World’s First Microcomputer,” created by Ed Roberts and his company, MITS. Roberts, an engineer, founded MITS to sell rockets. As the space race fizzled, so too did interest in rocketry and he pivoted to a hot commodity, calculators. Eventually, a price war broke out in calculators so he used the general-purpose Intel 8080 chip, that powered many calculators, to create a first general-purpose home computer.

College students Bill Gates and Paul Allen wrote a BASIC programming language for the popular machine. Gates hacked it out on paper tape. On their way to visit Roberts, they need a company name. Microcomputer Software? Too long. Microsoft. Roberts was happy to sell the program, though he may have been happy to sell anything that ran on his clunky invention.

Lifelong California friends Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak hung out at the Homebrew Computer Club, for do-it-yourself computer enthusiasts. Jobs worked at Atari and Wozniak at HP. Everybody there noticed the MITS. The two friends were eventually inspired to build their own computer company, Apple.

Roberts eventually sold MITS for $6 million and used the funds to buy a farm then attend medical school. The man called “the father of the personal computer” never again took an interest in computers.

Microcomputer Operating System (CP/M)

Operating systems tie the parts of a computer together, transforming it from silicon into something we can interact and use.

Gary Kildall

In 1973, Gary Kildall wrote the first widely used microcomputer operating system, CP/M. It gained popularity over the years. Kildall had a Ph.D. in computer science of Univ. WI. He created a simulator for the Intel 4004 and consulted with Intel, in the (then) three-person software group, creating the first microcomputer compiler for the Intel 8008, PL/M.

It took a year but Kildall eventually built a controller for the disk, computer, and memory ー a full operating system ー calling it control program/monitor, CP/M. That evolved in basic input/output system, BIOS, that still exists today.

There were many knock-offs of Kildall’s operating system. One was called “Quick DOS,” or QDOS for short (DOS stands for Disk Operating System). Kildall had a thriving business and seldom bothered hiring lawyers to shut down the small copycats. Most computer manufacturers preferred the original material and were unwilling to violate copyrights.

Working on the IBM-PC in stealth, IBM approach Kildall in the late 1970’s to license his operating system. Dorthy, Kildall’s wife, was running the business. When IBM arrived for discussions, she refused to sign a one-sided non-disclosure, concerned it would impede her ability to work with other companies that were buying their software. IBM left.


Kildall had been working with Microsoft, which created programming languages. Kildall had a theory that one company should be dominant in operating systems, another should focus on programming languages and a third or more on user software (ex: word processors). Each should have multiple competitors, he believed, but they should not break through their silos. Keeping them separate, he reasoned, would prevent monopolization and stagnation of technological progress. Microsoft was aware of both Kildall and his theory.

After IBM failed to make progress on their operating system, the lead engineer for the IBM PC suggested bringing Microsoft’s Bill Gates, who they’d been working with for programming languages. Lead IBM engineer Philip “Don” Estridge personally liked Gates – he worked with his mother on a charity board – and Gates’ father was a prominent attorney. Gates had already signed IBM’s nondisclosure.

IBM asked Gates if he could produce an operating system. Gates agreed, despite that neither he nor anybody at Microsoft had ever built an operating system. He then quickly contacted Tim Paterson, the “inventor” of QDOS, and licensed it for $25,000 (later adding another $50,000 and employing Paterson as an early Microsoft employee).

Licensing Wars

Microsoft’s licensed QDOS to IBM for little money but reserved the right to sell the software to other computer makers as Microsoft DOS, or MS-DOS.

IBM eventually also licensed CP-M, agreeing to allow buyers to choose. However, IBM sold CP-M computers at a much higher price. Since the operating systems did the same thing – because QDOS was a copy of CP-M – buyers purchased the less expensive MS-DOS. More importantly, Microsoft went on to sell countless copies of MS-DOS to other computer makers, since they knew that was shipping with the reference computer, the IBM-PC.

Microsoft eventually evolved MS-DOS into Microsoft Windows. Kildall eventually sold his business to Novell and died, about three years later, in a bar fight.

Kildall’s children, in a memoir written from an autobiography he died, wrote:

“Gary viewed computers as learning tools rather than profit engines. His career choices reflect a different definition of success, where innovation means sharing ideas, letting passion drive your work and making source code available for others to build upon. His work ethic during the 1970s resembles that of the open-source community today.”

Gary Kildall

Personal Computer, Xerox Alto (the “interim Dynabook”)

Dynabook was at the heart of Xerox PARC. Eventually realized as the Xerox Alto, it is essentially the first personal computer. Easy-to-use with a graphical interface, what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSISYG) programs, icons, the mouse, networking. Everything we take for granted today started as the Dynabook/Alto.


The Dynabook dates to Kay’s doctoral thesis and the first interview with Xerox. It is the underlying principle behind much of the work at Xerox PARC.

Kay envisioned a computer for just one person. His theoretical computer notebook would cost less than $500 “so that we could give it away in schools.” Compactness was important so “a kid could take it wherever he goes to hide.” Programming should be easy: “Simple things should be simple, complex things should be possible.” “A combination of this ‘carry anywhere’ device and a global information utility such as the ARPA network or two-way cable TV will bring the libraries and schools (not to mention stores and billboards) to the home.”

Xerox refused to fund the Dynabook, it was an inappropriate project since Xerox PARC was for offices, not children. Subsequently, Kay ignored them, sneaked away and, with the help of Thacker and Lampson, built what became the Alto. Kay referred to the Alto as “the interim Dynabook.”

Xerox: Computers Won’t Make Money

When finished, in 1973, Kay released it with a graphic of Cookie Monster, from Sesame Street, holding the letter C. Xerox built about 2,000 Alto’s for company use but never fully commercialized the computer. A Xerox executive told Taylor “the computer will never be as important to society as the copier.” The Dynabook, the personal computer, did not add shareholder value.

As of mid-2019, Xerox is worth $6.5 billion. Microsoft is worth $1.01 trillion. Apple is worth $874 billion.

Of course, Steve Jobs eventually visited Xerox PARC and rolled many ideas of the Alto into an Apple computer first called the Lisa and, later, the Macintosh. Soon after, Microsoft released Windows that looks suspiciously similar.

Console Gaming Systems

Console game systems are specialized computers that play games.

Ralph Baer came up with the idea of a video-game system that connects to televisions in 1966. Magnavox agreed to manufacture and distribute his seventh prototype, in 1971, branded the Odyssey. Magnavox sold about 350,000 units, at the then steep price of $100, before discontinuing it in 1978.

Nolan Bushnell, inspired by Odyssey, founded Atari. He built up his company, selling it in 1976 for about $30 million. In 1978, Atari fired Bushnell for “fighting like cats and dogs”.

Regardless, Atari went on to become wildly profitable but, eventually, sales declined due to poor games. However, Atari literally buried one game, “E.T.” in the middle of the night in a desert landfill due to poor quality. Specifically, the game consists of quickly falling into an inescapable hole.

Subsequently, various other game makers came and went. Japan-based Nintendo created a popular system. Eventually, scrappy startup Sega challenged Atari. Sony eventually took the market followed by Microsoft. Today, Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft all compete in the console gaming market.

Despite the first-mover advantage, neither Magnavox nor Baer was never a meaningful market participant in video games after the Odyssey. Eventually, Atari ceased making videogame consoles a the end of 1991.
Atari: Game Over, Full Documentary