INTERNET AND INTRANETS GUIDESoftware programs make Netsurfing easy.
t first, the Net was used primarily by far-flung scientists and engineers to exchange research data via government and university computers. Then, six years ago, students at the University of Illinois' National Center for Supercomputing Applications developed a software program that introduced the Internet to an entirely different group of users. Their program, called Mosaic, replaced the Internet's arcane codes with user-friendly screens and colorful graphics so that almost anyone could navigate through the Net territory soon to be known as the World Wide Web.
Documents on the Web are presented in the hypertext markup language (HTML) formatting code. Mosaic, which was distributed free of charge, was dubbed a "browser" because it was able to "read" through HTML code and convert the contents into colorful, graphical documents containing "hypertext" links that enabled users to jump to other Web pages by clicking on highlighted words or phrases.
In 1994, Mosaic pioneers Marc Andreesen and James Clark co-founded Netscape Communications Corp. and created a sophisticated, commercial version of Mosaic called Navigator. Although other companies such as Oracle and Symantec have introduced their own browsers, Netscape has managed to maintain about a 70 percent market share.
The most serious competition thus far came from Microsoft last year when it finally jumped on the Web bandwagon and introduced Internet Explorer. The company launched an aggressive marketing campaign that included bundling Explorer with new computers and distributing the program for free-versus about $49 for Netscape's Navigator. The strategy helped bring in new federal customers such as the Navy, which is including Explorer in an Internet kit being distributed to all personnel.
But although Microsoft's Explorer is free and provides what many believe is a better user interface, it only runs on the Windows 95 and Windows NT operating systems. Netscape's Navigator, by contrast, runs on the Windows, Macintosh and Unix platforms.
A hot subset of the browser market is "add-ons," which are software programs that can be added to browsers so that they can access special effects such as audio, video and animation. The programs, from companies such as Apple Computer, Macromedia and Xing Technology, can make static Web sites come alive.
Microsoft is trying to gain a foothold in the browser market by offering its Internet Explorer for free.