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Was the Web always free?

Last Edit: 10/01/17

From the 30th of April, 1993, CERN provided the World Wide Web free of charge, and since that date it has remained that way; with no fees charged to any users. This was a key feature in the World Wid Web becoming so popular; Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the Web, has famously been quoted as saying "this is for everyone".

Before the mid-1990s, the Gopher protocol had been the most popular tcp/ip system for retrieving documents from the Internet. However,the University of Minnesota catastrophically decided to charge a license fee, which shifted the majority of it's user base to the Web. However, it is fair to say that Gopher was a far less flexible protocol, and, inevitable, it may have lost the popularity battle even if it was kept free.

While the World Wide Web is free to access, many of you may have noted it will still cost you money to be able to access it. The World Wide Web is hosted on the Internet, and most users will have to pay a fee to a service provider to access the Internet. Alongside that fee, users will also need to purchase electronic hardware capable of accessing the Internet and the World Wide Web. Thankfully, the majority of the software needed to access the Web, such as Web browsers, are free to download and use.

Did the year 1993 represent a turning point for the Web?

Not only did CERN announce the Web would be licensed for free - Gopher, a direct competitor for online document retrieval - announced it would charge a fee for it's service. Another notable development in 1993 - although not especially seen so at the time - was the release of one of the first graphical Web browsers. Named Mosaic, it was developed by the NCSA 'National Center for Supercomputing Applications'. Mosaic invented many of the standard features you will see in today's web browsers: such as bookmarks, icons, images, and general layout. Although Mosaic is no longer in development (it was stopped in 1997), it's still available for download at the following URL:

ftp://ftp.ncsa.uiuc.edu/Mosaic/

The current address and ftp download page for the Mosiac web browser, this site was avilable as of November 2012.

Mosaic's time in the sun, so to speak, was brief, it was superseded by the Netscape Navigator in 1994-1995. However, many of the authors of the Mosaic web browser were employed by Netscape to develop their browser. The code of the Netscape Navigator is now used in the Mozilla project (Firefox web browser). Therefore, the legacy of the Mosaic project is still playing a prominent role in today's World Wide Web.