Friday, February 22, 2019

The WorldWideWeb Rebuild ↦

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (more commonly known as CERN) recently celebrated the 30th anniversary of the creation of the World Wide Web in a unique way:

In December 1990, an application called WorldWideWeb was developed on a NeXT machine at The European Organization for Nuclear Research (known as CERN) just outside of Geneva. This program – WorldWideWeb — is the antecedent of most of what we consider or know of as “the web” today.

In February 2019, in celebration of the thirtieth anniversary of the development of WorldWideWeb, a group of developers and designers convened at CERN to rebuild the original browser within a contemporary browser, allowing users around the world to experience the rather humble origins of this transformative technology.

I doubt that even many technical people know much about the origins of the World Wide Web. When its creator, Tim Berners-Lee was featured sitting at a NeXT computer during the opening ceremonies of the 2012 Olympics in London, I’m certain there were very few watching who knew what precisely was being referenced. Nevertheless, the World Wide Web has unquestionably changed the world and Tim Berners-Lee’s declaration during that ceremony that, “This is for everyone”, should inspire us all.

CERN’s recreation of that original software is a fitting tribute. It’s amazing that many well-constructed modern websites are still readable in this faithful reconstruction. (My own website fairs well on that point, with the notable exception of the generous helping of HTML entities used to better control typography.)

I’m particularly happy that they chose to reproduce the user interface of the NeXT operating system. It’s notable that Tim Berners-Lee’s original creation was as much editor as it was browser; indeed, it made extensive use of what, at the time, were NeXT’s industry-leading frameworks for building rich text editing software.