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What Was the First Graphical Web Browser?

By Contel Bradford
Updated May 16, 2024
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The first graphical Web browser was named Erwise, an application written for Unix computers running the Windows X System. It was developed by Kim Nyberg, Kari Sydänmaanlakka, Teemu Rantanen, and Kati Borgers, four college students who attended the Helsinki University of Technology in Finland. The project began in 1991 and was released in April of 1992. Erwise is largely credited as a pioneering program and is the precursor to the modern Internet browser.

Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, was instrumental in the development of the first graphical web browser. Berners-Lee realized that a browser with a graphical user interface would make the Web significantly easier to use for Internet surfing. Believing that the concept would be an ideal project for students, he made numerous requests to prospective developers around the world.

Berners-Lee’s request was picked up Ari Lemmke, the instructor who supervised the four students that eventually created the browser. The four Finnish students developed a graphical, point-and-click browser with numerous features that would not be seen until much later. Their work was inspired by Robert Cailliau, the Belgian computer scientist best known for working with Berners-Lee to develop the World Wide Web.

As the first graphical Web browser, Erwise had many unique qualities. Among them was its ability to simultaneously load multiple pages. For example, users could click on a hyperlink that automatically opened another window featuring the linked Web page. In fact, Erwise had a number of capabilities Mosaic lacked, including integrated text searching that could be performed from any given Web page. Mosaic, the first graphical Web browser that helped popularize the Web, still is widely recognized for laying the groundwork modern browsers would follow.

The development of the first graphical Web browser came to a halt after its creators graduated and moved on to other endeavors. Berners-Lee took a trip to Finland in an attempt to encourage the group of students to continue their work on the project. Unfortunately for Erwise, the group could not proceed with development due to inadequate funding. It has been said that Berners-Lee would have liked to continue the project himself but could not do so because the code was written entirely in Finnish.

Erwise was considered by many to be ahead of its time. Despite the innovation and promise the first graphical Web browser offered, it never was commercialized. Ultimately, it generally is believed that its discontinuation is attributed to the ailing state of Finland’s economy during the time of development.

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Discussion Comments
By snappy — On Jan 25, 2010

Ironically I bet if Finland's government had funded the project it would have eventually helped their economy.

Who invented Mosaic then?

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