A Man and His Vision for the Browser

Q&A: Tim Berners-Lee invented the world's first Web client in 1990 and fifteen years later he's still plugging for smarter browsing technologies that give end users more ability to create and interact with online data.

Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web in 1989 and introduced the first Web client in 1990, touching off a technological revolution that continues to play out in todays rapidly evolving Internet space.

The inventor and self-proclaimed "user interface engineer" continues to help guide development of the Web and related technologies from his position as director of the W3C (Worldwide Web Consortium) and senior researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technologys CSAIL (Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory).

Much of this work currently revolves around his concept for a more abstract, data-oriented online communications network, or what he calls the Symantec Web.

Berners-Lee recently spoke with eWeek.com Senior Writer Matt Hines about the current state of Web browsing technologies and further outlined his plans for improving the software to help make his vision for the future a reality.

Since launching the first Web client in 1990, the browser software arena has evolved in a lot of different ways. Is there anything about all of the different browser development thats been done to this point that really surprises you?

When I wrote the browser, people were using documents with wizzywig editors, so I really assumed that what people were going to use for preparing content was wizzywig, or what you see is what you get.

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So thats why I made it an editor and I was really surprised when on platforms which didnt have wizzywig editors, that people were prepared to go to the trouble of learning all the angle brackets and doing the html.

And a lot of people still do, so that was something that the user interface engineer in me was horrified to find that people would put up with such a terrible interface.

So almost from the start, things moved in a different direction than youd expected?

My goal with creating the original browser had been very much to make it a creative tool, to make the Web a creative space where people could input things and share information and build a common hypertext Web together.

So, whats happened since then is that browsers became more sophisticated and the editors therefore either werent capable of generating the full power of a modern Web page or they were simplistic. As html got more complicated, there still werent easy editors.

Here we are in 2005 and you see this craze around blogs and wikis, which anybody can edit. In a way that sort of ratifies my original assumption that anybody can edit and that people wanted to be creative and have the power to write as well as to read.

So you feel that with the addition of more creative editing tools, well start to see a more interactive element of the Web, and that will effect future browser development?

I still feel that blogs and wikis and sub-optimal, there not as easy as they should be; its not as simple as it should be to mark text up. In fact, theres no reason why we shouldnt have a wizzywig editor for a blog or wiki. The thing we missed earlier is that the browser needs to be in a safe environment where youre not going to mess up the Web site.

Blog software constrains you, so you can just do some writing and editing but you cant mess up all the formatting. So when it comes to user interface devices, I think weve still got some way to go.

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