Happy Run Some Old Web Browsers Day!

Happy Run Some Old Web Browsers Day!

In honor of the ten year anniversary of the Mozilla project, home.mcom.com, the Internet Web Site of the Mosaic Communications Corporation, is now back online.

It took some doing. There is comedy.

First, the fun stuff:

  • Until now, home.mcom.com and all URLs under it just redirected to netscape.com, then redirected a dozen more times before taking you to some AOL portal page. The old URLs that were baked into the toolbar buttons of the original web browsers didn't work any more. But now, if you fire up a copy of Mosaic Netscape 0.9, and click on the various toolbar buttons, they will work again! For example, in the old browsers, when you clicked on the "What's New" toolbar button, it went here.
  • home.mcom.com is now a snapshot of that web site from 21-Oct-1994.

  • mosaic.mcom.com is now a snapshot of that web site from July 1994. That's from just after the company was announced, but before the first browser beta was released. I think that by Oct 1994, both mosaic.mcom.com and www.mcom.com were redirects to home.mcom.com, but I can't remember any more.

  • In order to make these web sites work in the old browsers, it was necessary to host them specially. In this modern world, a single server will typically host multiple web sites from a single IP address. This works because modern web browsers send a "Host" header saying which site they're actually looking for. Old web browsers didn't do that: if you wanted to host a dozen sites on a single server, that server had to have a dozen IP addresses, one for each site. So these sites have dedicated addresses!

    The web server also had to be configured to not send a "charset" parameter on the "Content-Type" header, because the old browsers didn't know what to make of that.

  • Trivia Question #1: Do you remember why home1.mcom.com through home32.mcom.com exist?

  • Trivia Question #2: Do you remember the behavioral difference the browsers exhibited when they were talking to a Netscape web server?

  • Trivia Question #3: When was the <HYPE> tag implemented, and what was its origin?

  • I had originally planned on re-hosting these web sites on an SGI Indy running Mosaic Netsite Commerce Server, just for maximal comedic value... and to see how long it took before someone Øwned it, since there must be someone out there who still remembers how to launch an assault on Irix 5.3. Unfortunately, that wasn't possible for political reasons explained below.

Trivia Answers:

  1. home1.mcom.com through home32.mcom.com exist because the early browsers did client-side load-balancing: the browser itself had a special case where if it was loading "home.mcom.com" it would actually pick a random number from 1 to 32 and instead load "homeN.mcom.com"! Those were physically different servers in the Netscape data center.
  2. When loading pages from a Netscape server, the caption next to the URL field in the browser would change from "Location" to "Netsite".

  3. Not telling.

Enough about all that, I want to run some old browsers!

  • My personal collection of old Netscape browsers is here: home.mcom.com/archives/. It's not complete, but it's all that I could find. (It is missing some key releases, such as Netscape 0.4 for Irix, which was the first release to ever leave the building; and the "non-exportable"-crypto versions of almost all of them.)

    If you can publicly mirror these, please do! I know of a few mirrors so far: edlang.org, nothings.org, fauxpaw.com, and moar.jp. Torrents, anyone?

  • Linux users: You can run Mosaic Netscape binaries as old as 0.93 on modern Linux systems! You need to load the "a.out" module in the kernel, and install some really old libraries:

    Since pulling all those files out is kind of a pain, I've put together a tarball: netscape-linux-libs.tar.gz. Unpack it in your root directory. It shouldn't conflict with anything modern. I've tested that on Red Hat 9 and Ubuntu 7.10.

  • Mac users: If you're using a modern Mac, you need to use an emulator.

    • Download BasiliskII and BasiliskIIGUI from Emaculation. Note: there are apparently a number of projects that call themselves "BasiliskII 1.0", but the one linked here seems to be the only one that actually works.
    • Download Quad650.zip and MacStartup.img from Redundant Robot (a Mac ROM and disk image of MacOS 7.5.5).

    • Launch "BasiliskIIGUI". Under "Volumes", add "MacStartup.img", and point "Unix Root" at your desktop or something (so that you can transfer the old Netscape installers into the emulator).

    • Under "Network", set Ethernet to "slirp".

    • Under "Memory", set model to "Quadra", CPU to 68040, and ROM file to the (unzipped) Quadra ROM. Turn on JIT. Set your screen size to something sane.

    • Start the emulator, launch "StuffIt Expander" and unpack the "netscape1_0.sea.hqx" file. (You can't just double-click it.)

    • Launch the "netscape1_0.sea" self-extracting archive. And you're in business!

    • Alternately! Instead of un-StuffIt-ing each browser, you can just download this System 7 disk image that I made: netscape-mac.img.zip (59MB) which contains each of the unpacked Mac executables from 0.9 through 4.04.

    • Note that if you want to run 0.9, you'll have to set your (real) system clock back to 1994 to get around the time-bomb. (0.93 and later don't have a time bomb.)

  • Once you've got those old browsers running, you'll find that they're working fine with the mcom.com web sites, but they fail on just about every other web site in the world (for the "Host" header reason I described above).

    I have a fix for that!

    I wrote a small proxy server that bidirectionally translates the HTTP/1.0 protocol spoken by old web browsers to the HTTP/1.1 protocol spoken on the modern web. Download and run http10proxy.pl. (You may need to install the Net::Server::Fork Perl module first.) Then, go into the preferences on your ancient browser and set "HTTP Proxy" to localhost, port 8228. This will adjust outgoing Host headers as well as incoming Content-Type headers.

What Was That About Politics?

    When I heard that AOL was shutting down their Netscape division for good, I mailed a contact there and asked if they'd transfer the mcom.com domain to me, so that I could resurrect these web sites to make the old browsers work right.

    My contact asked around, and much to my surprise, the answer was yes! Wheels were put in motion, AOL's operations folks removed their dependencies on those domains (no idea what those were!) and the domains were about to be transfered... when...

    AOL Chief IP Counsel and Time Warner blocked it.

    Why?

    Because their lawyers determined that, because mcom.com is ten years old and four letters long, they could make several hundred thousand dollars by simply putting it on the market and selling it to a spammer!

    And so they began the process of doing exactly that.

    Fortunately, my contact (who prefers to remain anonymous) talked them out of this, pointing out that it would be perhaps not the best PR move. But still, they wouldn't transfer it to me. AOL still owns the domains. However, they were willing to host the old Netscape content there, at least for now.

    So, thank you to my anonymous contact for all the help! And thank you to AOL for hosting these historic web pages. And for not (yet?) selling the domain to a spammer.

Tags: , , , , ,

94 Responses:

  1. edlang says:

    Wow!

    Alas, Firefox no longer understands imagemaps...

    • jwz says:

      Yeah, I don't know what the deal is there. Maybe it wants a different Content-Type. Fortunately the links are duplicated at the bottom.

    • edlang says:

      In terms of mirroring the archives, http://mcom.edlang.org/ is a mostly complete copy. It's got all of the 0.x, 1.x, 2.x, 3.x and a third of the 4.x copies at time of writing.

      It's also got an rsync mirror: rsync mcom.edlang.org:: . It's probably faster for others to pull from that for the time being.

    • nitemayr says:

      It seems to work over here.... did they change the website since monday?

  2. sneakums says:

    The throttling is giving me terrifying flashbacks.

  3. positricity says:

    See my AOL IM, JWZ.

    I have a serious idea.

  4. hatter says:

    Kudos to you, the mysterious insider and AOL for helping keep near-history alive for a little longer.

    the hatter

  5. allartburns says:

    I have a CD-ROM around here with the first commercial release of, uh, everything? I remember we were one of the early customers, it was difficult to even pay for it.

    I'll image it if you want a copy.

  6. jered says:

    FYI, the search page (at "http://home.mcom.com/MCOM/search_docs/index.html") is not working properly. The server is not configured so that the query CGI is a CGIExec (or however that works those days), so I just get the Perl back.

    • jwz says:

      I'm sure that ran some third-party proprietary binary that I never bothered to save a copy of, not to mention the indexes.

  7. xach says:

    Does not work with TueV Mosaic and I refuse to upgrade.

  8. shaver says:

    This is awesome, thanks for even imagining that it could be done -- I'd not have thought that anything could move the AOL mountain for such a thing.

  9. benediktus says:

    home.mcom.com is now a snapshot of that web site from 21-Oct-1994.

    yep. that's what was on the last time i had a look...

  10. ninjarat says:

    Did you try Basilisk II for m68k Mac emulation? If not then I'll try it this evening when I get home.

  11. asjo says:

    The speed - cute!

  12. strspn says:

    Did <HYPE> have audio of Marc Andreessen saying something?

  13. petrov76 says:

    So any plans for getting email sent to mcom.com forwarded appropriately? I think it'd be pretty cool for jwz@mcom.com to be working again.

  14. badc0ffee says:

    I always wondered why that happened! I mean, I have no idea why they would do that, but now I know what would cause it to change.

  15. cdavies says:

    I don't suppose you have any companion builds of Netscape's Commerce server? It'd be worth buying an old SGI from ebay to play with ye olde SSL. Hell, for a real nostalgia trip, little could beat digging up some fortezza gear too.

    • jwz says:

      Sadly, I do not.

      I guess if you find the right SGI on ebay, it might have it installed already, though...

    • oneko says:

      I happen to have a nearly complete collection of vintage sgi hardware. Let me know if you find the builds.

  16. If anyone can possibly tell me how to get IE5-for-Unix installed under Solaris 10, I'd be much appreciative. (Hey, it would be at least as comedic as what Jamie did here!) The old installer binary is still archived online, but doesn't run.

  17. cheleball says:

    I got Netscape .094B2 to work in Mac OS 8.6 running in SheepShaver on a MacBook Pro. Wow, what a blast from the past! It even s l o w l y loads jpegs pass by pass - an effect I've not seen in a long time! Also used the view source a bit - web pages sure were simple back then.

    Setting up SheepShaver is its own can of worms. If you need information there reply and I'll do my best based on my memory of what I did.

    All I had to do to get network support on my (already running) SheepShaver install was set SheepShaver to use slirp as its Ethernet interface (see this: http://theappleblog.com/2006/07/01/classic-on-intel-macs-courtesy-of-sheepshaver/). I then opened the TCP/IP control panel (which prompted me to enable TCP/IP), saw that the default settings would probably work, and found that they did.

  18. valentwine says:

    % file /Volumes/pkgsrc/pkg/bin/mMosaic
    /Volumes/pkgsrc/pkg/bin/mMosaic: Mach-O executable i386
  19. cryocone says:

    ..several hundred thousand dollars..."

    They are probably right. And, you'd probably have to pay tax on that, even if it was a gift, right?

    So they are actually helping you out!

    By the way, you borked @mcom.com email addresses that were still being handled quite nicely by aka. Oh well. I'm not whining or anything.

  20. artlung says:

    I used to be a co-admin over at evolt.org and I think whoever is running the show over there would be very interested in hosting your binaries over there on browsers.evolt.org.

    I sent a ping to some of my former co-admins and hopefully there'll be some traction to get your post noticed and get your files mirrored.

    the b.e.o resource has been a going concern for at least 6 years and shows no signs of political (or otherwise) net evaporation.

    Very cool work!

  21. baconmonkey says:

    the 0.4 win16 browser worked with no trouble, but even going to http://home.mcom.com/ it keeps asking me to configure a viewer for "text/html;charset=iso-8859-1"
    I though you said that was changed on the server...

  22. baconmonkey says:

    oh, and "A Glimpse of the Future" DEC 1994 video about the internet

  23. etagloh says:

    It'd be a retrofit, but I sometimes miss that battleship grey standard X11-stylee background. Time to hack out some custom user-side CSS for it.

  24. netsharc says:

    This post made it to Boing Boing. It's like matter just met anti-matter! Or something...

  25. ninjarat says:

    On Macintosh, Intel, Leopard, System 7.5.3, Navigator 1.22:
    http://www.rgo.gweep.net/~ratinox/GFX/Netscape.jpg
    You will need the Basilisk II Universal Binary from here:
    http://gwenole.beauchesne.info/en/projects/basilisk2#downloads
    Run BasiliskIIGUI. Set the Ethernet Interface to "slirp". Configure otherwise as required.
    In System 7, in Apple Extras, use the Network Software Selector to set Open Transport.
    In Control Panels -> TCP/IP: Connect Via Ethernet using DHCP.

  26. jslabovitz says:

    You guys with the 1994 browsers can go back even further in time and surf to the circa-1993 pioneer home page of Global Network Navigator (GNN), the first commercial web publication:

    http://meer.net/users/johnl/gnn/gnn-home.html

    I mirrored this years ago after coming across the files on one of the international GNN mirror sites. In those halcyon days (I was the GNN technical editor/webmaster), we solved the content distribution problem by finding volunteer sites around the world to host GNN content. The main site was gnn.com; the only other one I remember was nearnet.gnn.com.

    --John Labovitz

  27. rsdio says:

    Did Mosaic or NSCP sell the browser in a box in stores? Because I have this memory of going with my dad to buy a web browser in a box. I do not remember when this was. It might have been Prodigy (teh awesom!).

    Whatever we bought that day, I'm sure I don't still have, which I find sad.

    • jwz says:

      Yes, there were Netscape retail boxes -- believe it or not, we actually made money doing that. Spry also had (Windows-only, I think?) retail boxes of their NCSA Mosaic descendant (bundled with a TCP stack, which didn't come with the OS back then). I can't remember if Spyglass also had retail boxes of their NCSA descendant, or if they only did license bundles.

      (For those of you unclear on the history: NCSA Mosaic was written by a bunch of people who went on to found Netscape. The original code-name-Mozilla browser (that is, "Mosaic Netscape") was written from scratch by a team including most of the NCSA Mosaic developers. Meanwhile, NCSA licensed the original Mosaic source to a few other companies, including Spry, Spyglass, and Microsoft, who forked it and developed their own versions. Early versions of Internet Explorer shared code with NCSA Mosaic (lots, at first). Netscape never did. However, NCSA sued Mosaic Communications Corp. over the word "Mosaic", and we settled with them, changing from a company called "Mosaic" with a product called "Netscape" to a company called "Netscape" with a product called "Navigator". Which we had always called "Mozilla" internally. Clear now?)

      • elliterati says:

        I'm pretty sure Spyglass only did licenses, no retail. Back in this period, I used to work for the University of Illinois computer store, and made a lot of phone calls to get demo software.

        I think I still have some Mac versions of NCSA Mosaic 2 and 3 somewhere. Every once in awhile I try to fire them up to see what works. Everything stopped working a couple years ago... :(

      • jkonrath says:

        Spry had two retail box products, Internet in a Box, which was the consumer version, and Internet Office, which was a corporate suite including a mail program, gopher, and some other largely useless apps. They were both Windows-only.

        I worked on what was to become the Mac version of Internet Office, but by early 1996, the business model moved away from getting people to pay for the browser to the AOL spray-and-pray method of mailing out ten million discs at a time. Also, MS had much more generous redistribution terms for IE by that point ("Absolutely free, if you help us assimilate") so the project went from a Spry-ized version of Spyglass to a bundle of IE with Spry/Compuserve's account generation crap.

        I think I still have the Sprynet CD somewhere. I hid an easter egg in the online help, since they wouldn't let us hide one in the code.

      • brpxqzme says:

        I am a youngin' (relatively speaking) who completely "missed out" on the Internet/WWW of the 90's (okay, "didn't have access" is more accurate :P), and I do realize this post comes out of nowhere being several months down the line, but I suppose I got a good couple of chuckles out of it.

        So I was using the CS computers at RIT as a freshman; these systems ran a somewhat under-maintained image (probably more up-to-date now, seeing as that was a short-yet-long two years ago). They also came equipped with a broken, not-the-latest-version copy of Mosaic, as any Solaris image with "hasn't been completely looked over in more than a decade" syndrome might be bound to have. My curiosity (and freshman boredom) was sufficiently piqued, so I opened up the Mosaic source, tweaked it to compile, and got it running. "Working" would be the wrong word there; Mosaic, apparently, can't properly browse most sites running on modern servers, even with old-school HTML files and old-school image formats and such, and yall'd probably know why about ten times better than I do - I tinker with old code for giggles, I don't go digging into the history of protocols. Then came the true test: if I can't browse most "real" sites, what can I?

        So for fun and profit, I typed in all the "about:" addresses I could come up with without cheating and looking at the source. I stopped at "about:mozilla" because it had the witty retort I'd been hoping it'd spit at me. And now you know. As if you didn't before, but eh. Every day is "browse like a caveman" day when I feel like it |-'

        For those who would rather not waste the time putting it into practice and would rather spend it looking through theory instead, the offending code is archived here.

        • jwz says:

          Wow, I had no idea that later versions of Mosaic had gone and implemented about: URLs too! That's funny...

          I guess that was released in 1996?

      • The 1.0 retail box was our "white album" for the internet purist.

  28. 1ec5 says:

    Pretty awesome that Mosaic came back to life in a way. For what it’s worth, I took a ton of screenshots of various Netscape (and Netscape-related) browser versions running on Darwine.

  29. tiff_seattle says:

    you've been linked on slashdot. be prepared for the decensing hordes

    http://tech.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=08/04/01/1428240

  30. robotterror says:

    Yearn for the good old days? Why not host a retro site at a retro hosting company:

    http://www.slumlordhosting.com

    Worth a look and lots of goodies.

  31. zorinlynx says:

    Thanks a lot for posting this. I came into the scene a bit late (mid-1995) but still remember the early days fondly.

    It's a shame about mcom.com; I'm actually surprised AOL cares so much about a hundred grand or so that they might be able to sell the domain for... that's like an average person caring about twelve cents; it's really nothing to them.

    I hope you can keep this up for a while. One of the downsides about our culture moving to the Internet is the fact that history can be lost to the ages if it's not meticulously kept. There are no physical archives of web pages that might sit for decades in someone's basement to be rediscovered later, so people like you are all we have.

    Thanks so much.

  32. jtroutman says:

    Thanks for this. Now I feel old.

    I remember quite clearly downloading NCSA Mosaic in the fall of 1993 while working at UMaine, which was quite impressive on a Mac Quadra and the then-massive 21" color Radius monitor.

    I also remember setting up the first web server on campus, using a SPARCstation 2 and NCSA HTTPD, in '93, and having all sorts of other departments wanting help and hosting space to make their own "home pages".

    I ended up going to Umaine for personal reasons, but UIUC had been my original choice. Oddly enough, I had visited the campus with some friends from Illinois, and by chance had crashed for a night at Rob McCool's apartment (he was not there). A friend later ended up working at NCSA, with an office across the hall from Marc...

  33. romulusnr says:

    IHNMTS except I'd love a firefox extension that changed the "spinning spots" into a pulsating dithered-blue N.

  34. zooplah says:

    I tried out a really old Netscape on Linux a couple years ago. I opted for running the Windows version under WINE, which I figured would be easier and more reliable than an old Linux version. It worked OK, but the home page didn't work anymore; plus, as far as ancient browsers are concerned, you can't beat NCSA Mosaic (if it weren't so old and buggy and if it had SSL support, that would be my main browser; I just love the UI and features).

  35. jethric says:

    I got my mirror of the 'Old Mozilla Archives' up at:

    http://oma.fifthpaw.com

    Thanks!

  36. zorinlynx says:

    Hey jwz, after browsing the pages, now I'm curious... What made Netsite Communications Server so special that it was $1500? I guess the free alternatives weren't all that great at the time?

    Was this a major money-maker for Mosaic/Netscape? The browser was practially free for non-commercial use, so I imagine this is where the $$ was made...

    • jwz says:

      Apache only barely existed in 1994; it was a set of patches to NCSA httpd (which was written by Rob McCool, who also wrote the Netscape server.) Our server scaled a lot better, and I believe it was the only server that did crypto for quite some time.

      I didn't work on the server project, so I hardly remember any of this.

  37. loree says:

    Oh wow, does this bring back memories... I did tech support for Netscape in the pre-AOL days. Somewhere around here I think I still have a copy of the 1.1 client, still in shrinkwrap.

  38. glumx says:

    There is no such thing as Ubuntu 10, but 8.04 is coming out next month. Too bad you didn't get mcom.com

    • jwz says:

      Thanks, I meant 7.10. I knew there was a 10 in there somewhere, and I only ran the damned thing for four days.

  39. georgebray says:

    It's been great to see these historic sites again. As a web link nut I did a report on home.mcom.com It says 64% broken.

    http://reports.linkalarm.com/21350568002/

    George

  40. ninjaseg says:

    We're missing a browser. Tim Berners-Lee's original "WorldWideWeb" browser.

    http://www.w3.org/People/Berners-Lee/WorldWideWeb.html

    I have a couple NeXTstations in storage. I one tried to use WorldWideWeb a few years ago, but it barfs upon start-up due to being unable to locate now non-existent CERN URLs. Should be workaround-able with some /etc/hosts hacking but I never got around to that...

  41. broken_gizmo says:

    Heh.

    You might want to take a look at this and check with your contact again. Internal to AOL, mcom.com is redirecting to netscape.aol.com again...

  42. bahaltener says:

    Thanks for the posting and the effort with AOL :) I found that Mosaic/Netscape site in around way while trying to run old versions of Netscape from here: http://browsers.evolt.org/ (this one I found accidentally).

    At the same time I also found a nice article about Netscape->Mozilla->Firefox transition.

  43. taskboy3000 says:

    I still think of Mac OS 7 as "the new one." Open transport: what a concept! I was stoked when netscape started supporting background images. Not so stoked about BLINK.

  44. sheilagh says:

    the question wasn't "what does it do" -- the origin remains a mystery!

  45. bahaltener says:

    Hey, what happened to mcom.com?

  46. myrkraverk says:

    Here is a little screenshot some of you may like, or cry over:

    http://imagepaste.nullnetwork.net/viewimage.php?id=514

    Netscape Navigator Gold with Flash 10. Unfortunately, it doesn't really work, that I can tell.