An early history of the Lynx web browser #VintageComputing

Michael Grobe compiled an early history of the Lynx browser, developed at the University of Kansas.

This is a brief history of the curses-based WWW browser called Lynx, developed within Academic Computing Services at the University of Kansas. It is part of the WWW History Project exploring the origins of Web technology. For more information see http://www.cc.ukans.edu/about_lynx.

Lynx was developed primarily by Michael Grobe, Charles Rezac and Lou Montulli, and members of the “Internet community” by an iterative process of exploration, interaction, hacking and evaluating.

Prior to becoming a Web browser Lynx was a distributed hypertext browser based on the client/server model with its own intermachine and intradocument link tags. In addition, to support remote database applications, Lynx could serve as a kind of text-based X Window display server.

This document includes excerpts from early Lynx documentation, usually from 1992.

I like to say that we “invented a Web.” Rather than the Web, of course. It seems to me that Tim Berners-Lee defined a much better version than ours, and conversion was comparatively easy, since we had already developed similar ideas.

Tim balanced what was useful with what was do-able in an incredibly elegant way. To me the Web is the “big 3” that Tim “invented”: URL syntax, HTML (choosing a “markup approach”), and HTTP in the context of the Client/Server model.

I note that each of these

  • still works and is in use today,
  • has limitations,
  • can be significantly improved usually only with strenuous effort and limited payoff, and
  • has served as a flexible foundation for many variations on the theme (images, CGI scripting, and applets, new version of HTML, etc.).

Limitations notwithstanding, the platform is clearly extremely powerful and a remarkable piece of software engineering.

You can read the entire history here.


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