By SIMON AVERY
Toronto Globe and Mail
August 03, 2005
The son of mathematicians had a vision as a teenager of linking computers to share information. Years after he graduated from Oxford University with a degree in physics, that vision gradually turned into the World Wide Web.
Berners-Lee saw computer data everywhere linked together, believing it possible to connect anything with anything, in a system free of hierarchical classification. He also realized that the system had to be entirely decentralized, so that people anywhere could use it, without needing permission, and links could be added by anyone with ease.
"Inventing the World Wide Web involved my growing realization that there was a power in arranging ideas in an unconstrained, web-like way. And that awareness came to me through precisely that kind of process," he says in Weaving the Web, his 1999 book describing the historic chain of events.
"The Web arose as the answer to an open challenge, through the swirling together of influences, ideas, and realizations from many sides, until, by the wondrous offices of the human mind, a new concept jelled. It was a process of accretion, not the linear solving of one well-defined problem after another," he writes.
The Internet was in use as far back as the 1970s, but moving information around was a highly skilled act in the absence of common standards.
Berners-Lee created a common language for computers around the world to share information. Hypertext Markup Language, or HTML, was the essential tool for formatting pages with hypertext links.
He also created a simple identifier to sit in the Web software so that once a piece of information was posted on a computer server, it could be found by a browser running on any desktop computer.
He began writing the software for the Web in October 1990, and by Christmas day was communicating with a colleague over the Internet with his browser-editor software.
Once the foundations were in place, Berners-Lee needed to create browsers to run on Windows, Macintosh and Unix-based computers. This was the stage where outside programmers saw the potential of what he was creating and began working on different versions of browsers.
It was a handful of developers at the University of Illinois who took the lead, led by a young student named Marc Andreessen. In February 1993, he and the university released a browser called Mosaic over the Web that was easy to download and simple to use. By the next year, Andreessen had gone on to found his own Web browser company, and in October 1994, Netscape Communications Corp. released the first version of its browser, called Mozilla.
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