Before anything like an Android device or iPhone existed, desktop computers were the battleground for the browser wars. The battle involved billions of dollars invested by a number of companies, all based on the premise that whoever ruled the desktop browser market would own the internet. Today, mobile devices account for nearly half of all website traffic. Back in the 1990s, however, almost all of the action on the web came from desktop machines, and the vast majority of those desktop machines were running some flavor of Microsoft Windows.
In the browser world, the first-mover advantage belonged to Netscape Communications Corporation. They built the Netscape Navigator browser that made the web accessible to millions for the first time. Netscape had more than 80% of the market, but they also had no shortage of competition. IBM had a browser for OS/2. Oracle had the Powerbrowser, a Netscape-compatible product that included something called the Database Markup Language. The real danger to Netscape, of course, came from the company that owned more than 80% of the world’s desktops: Microsoft.
Strategically, Netscape realized that the web needed to move past static web pages to reach its full potential. Even if they were created dynamically by something like a CGI script on the web server, pages didn’t change once they arrived in your browser. If you wanted to see even a slightly modified version of a page, you had to send a request back to the server and wait for a response. For all its sophistication, a web browser felt a lot like a dumb terminal attached to a mainframe. What web developers needed was a programming language that would run in the browser, taking advantage of the processing power of the desktop machine to give users a richer experience.