Thursday, August 21, 2014

Here's what Larry Page hated about the web in 1994


Four years before he founded Google, Larry Page was an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, where he edited an engineering society newsletter. Business Insider has a great piece about the essays he wrote for the publication. The most interesting is his 1994 review of Mosaic, the browser that had dominated the web before Netscape came along. Page loved Mosaic, but he also pointed out it had a lot of significant limitations:

Mosaic is not an application builder. A word processor in Mosaic would be painful to use, even with forms. This is because Mosaic is mostly a text and pictures browser, not an X Windows for the net. [X Windows was an early technology for running graphical Unix software from a remote location] Many needed interactions styles, such as dialogs, are not present in Mosaic. Mosaic is not truly interactive. Most of the communication with the server is only for new pages of information, not for small updates about what your current task is... Mosaic does not handle sparse network resources well. When a server is overloaded there is no protocol or procedure to get the same information from somewhere else. Mosaic does not have an inherent search capability. Even though Moasic is a tool designed for browsing information, there is no inherent protocol for doing searches, or automatically filtering the information presented to you.

Page obviously never stopped thinking about these limitations, because now Google has products that address every single one of them. The Google search engine, of course, solves the lack of an "inherent search capability." Early on, Google started saving cached versions of websites to help deal with the problem of overloaded servers.

To make the web more interactive required improvements in browser technology — specifically, a technique known as Ajax that emerged in the early 2000s. Google was one of the first companies to take advantage of the technology. Gmail, released in 2004, was one of the first web applications to notify you when new content was available rather than making you hit the "refresh" button.

And of course Google now has a suite of applications, including a word processor. Google acquired a startup called Writely in 2006 and re-branded it as part of Google Docs.

Today, Google doesn't have to wait for browsers to adopt more advanced technologies. Google's Chrome is the most popular browser on the market. If Larry Page wants a new feature added to the web, he can order his engineers to get to work on it.

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