NCSA's Joseph Hardin Heads Conference Planning

Mosaic developer has high hopes for the future

If the World-Wide Web is the Emerald City of the '90s, Mosaic is the Yellow Brick Road. Mosaic was created by software developers at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois as an access tool for Web servers and other sources of information on the Internet. NCSA's original project lead for Mosaic was Joseph Hardin, associate director for software development at NCSA and co-chairman of the Second International World-Wide Web Conference, "Mosaic and the Web."

The conference, the first in the United States to be devoted to Web development, is the result of months of planning by Hardin, co-chairman Ira Goldstein of the Open Software Foundation Research Institute, and other members of the International WWW Conference Committee. The huge growth interest in the Web in 1993 led to discussions between NCSA and CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics where the Web originated, last winter, about holding a conference. As a result, two were scheduled: the first at CERN, in Switzerland, last May, and the second in Chicago Oct. 17-20. The conference committee also was formed to schedule and plan future conferences and to provide continuity.

"We've been working closely with CERN, since the technologies and our interests are so closely tuned," Hardin says. "We're both scientific research institutions and associated with the academic and research engineering communities, so it was just a natural liaison."

The Chicago conference, which has been sold out for weeks, will include "everything of interest to users and organizations interested in learning about the Web, from both a public and a commercial perspective," Hardin says. "We think it's going to be fascinating."

Because of the high interest in the conference, the organizers are looking into, but not promising, the use of remote sites with conference sessions multicast to faraway locations via the MBone, the Internet Protocol Multicast Backbone, or via phone lines. The MBone was developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force for experiments with broadcasting messages.

"This is a global phenomenon," Hardin says. "One of the things we want to do is allow a lot of people to participate without necessarily having to come here. Since we are constantly pushing the boundaries of what can be done over the Net, the next natural step is for us to have remote sites participate in an increasingly interactive way. Broadcast via satellite is a future possibility, Hardin believes. "Using existing teleconferencing technology is too expensive and it violates the ethic of the Net anyway. The goal, and the joy of the Net, is to collapse that kind of thing down into the Web. So we're trying out different ideas. It's just a dream right now."

Development of Mosaic

Mosaic development began after David Thompson, an NCSA developer, introduced the Web to NCSA's software development group. Subsequently, Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina of NCSA developed most of the application. "When we looked at the World-Wide Web and the first browsers, we all looked at each other-Marc and Dave and I-and said, 'Wow, we can do a lot with this. Let's try it out and see what happens.'"

The objective was to build a graphical interface to the Web, having it apply across the Macintosh Windows, X Window and Microsoft Windows platforms. All three platforms are now supported. A forms functionality was added, allowing clients to interact with information on the Web by sending information back to the server. "The idea was for this to be a collaborative technology more than just an information delivery technology," Hardin says. "There's a real danger of passivity on the Net-of people staying too much in the traditional perspective of broadcast technology, where you sit passively in front of a television. The fun is when you actually get involved."

Now NCSA has licensed Mosaic technology to several companies, hoping to see the technology develop commercially even as the public version is developed in parallel and remains available free of charge. In addition, NCSA has assigned future commercial licensing rights for Mosaic to Spyglass, Savoy, IL. "We were looking for some company that essentially shared our vision that the public version of the software was not competition for a commercial version, but rather helped create markets for it," Hardin says. "It's a good thing that a public version remain viable and vibrant and continue to be developed. Spyglass will work with all the existing licensees and license to people like IBM and DEC. That frees us from this incredible amount of effort that was directed toward trying to figure out what a commercial approach should be."

Hardin sees encouragement in the move of Encyclopedia Britannica to make its product available on Mosaic and the Web. "They have confidence that millions of people will be able to read their material because the standards of HTML and Mosaic are there. Otherwise, they would be at the mercy of providers like Prodigy and America OnLine and CompuServe, whom they originally approached. This is an example of an opening that I think will lead to diversity, proliferation, and creativity-and in the future, as we look back in history, one of the revolutionary characteristics of the next generation of global communications."

NCSA Mosaic for the X Window System is available at in /Mosaic. Both source code and binaries (for Sun, SGI, IBM RS/6000, DEC Alpha OSF/1, DEC ULTRIX, and HP-UX) are available. You don't need to have Motif installed on your system to run NCSA Mosaic if you pick up a precompiled binary. However, you do need Motif 1.1 to compile Mosaic.