I have not said much about this. Maybe it's appropriate now.
For this, I need to relate my view of the critical path to
the current state of the industry. Your mileage may vary.
I have tried to get this put into wikipedia but it was
removed on a few occasions. The rational was that it could
not have occurred because it is not on the web. Later, I
appealed to Jimbo, sending him 25 pages or documentation and
early history on Silversmith, and he added a brief account
into the history of the web browser and locked the page.
CALS browser) probably a beltway vendor, 1988
4. Viola browser, 1993
Silversmith was the first modern browser based on tags. It
was created as an access method for ontologies and large
documents. Contrary to popular opinion, TimBL's browser was
not the first. As indicated below, he has noted that it was
the first "graphical web browser". I had been inspired by
"Literary Machines" by Ted Nelson and his Xanadu project. I
later asked him when was the first time he saw the term
"web" applied to documents and he indicated it was earlier
than his work, perhaps from Nolan Bushnell.
At the time we were doing standards work for CD-ROM's, and
were the first company to put images on a CD. I was chairman
of the Rockridge committee, and I also sat on the ANSI
CD-ROM committee. We had a booth at a Microsoft conference
when Dr. James Mason made an announcement about the
preliminary approval of the ISO standard for SGML developed
by Charles Goldfarb. (Since CD's are silver, the tool for
them became "Silversmith".)
That was in early 1986, and I believe (the late) Bill
Tunnicliffe was chairman of that standards work. Bill was
the person who conceived of the separation of data and
control for documents. That is now an idea that is
undergoing acceptance in other areas as developers prepare
to move to smarter systems. Bill is one of the unsung heroes
of present systems in that his insight now provides a key
ingredient in computer systems on the order of $300B - $400B
per year, in addition to the commerce they enable.
James made the announcement at a CD-ROM conference at
Microsoft Hq in Washington. As I listened to him make the
announcement I couldn't understand why it was needed.
Slowly, as he spoke it occurred to me what he was describing
and my head went into overdrive. It was the key that I had
been looking for for some time. I was interested in rapid
access for large documents, and this was the missing part. I
didn't know if I should shout or keep my mouth shut. (I
decided to act quietly and when I returned to Boston I
started reading the draft standard.)
After James made the announcement we talked, and he
mentioned that an AAP committee was developing the first tag
set for documents using SGML, and they needed assistance.
That work was done by the Electronic Manuscript Project
committee of the AAP. The committee, an ad hoc project,
aimed to develop publishing standards so that publishers
could have access to multiple printing sources that produced
identical content layout. The committee developed tag sets
for book, article and serial (magazine). It also developed
layouts for tables and math equations in addition to what is
now CSS (Cascading Style Sheets).
Silversmith is a text-based, full-featured browser that
could link between images, sound and text. This was in the
days of the PC-AT and a robust page composition system was
not yet available. Still, Silversmith had a number of
interesting features. It had a replaceable font system, and
we delivered a special version for Dr. Mason that performed
searches using runes for Old Norse literature.
Bill lived not far from me, and he came to my lab on a
couple of occasions. I demonstrated Silversmith for him and
his response was, "Yes, that is interesting. But I don't
understand why you would want to do that".
Silversmith could do regular _expression_ searches on text. It
could search on text or tags, including semantic tags within
a restrictive context. By clicking on an image or a
highlighted (blue) text you would like to the destination.
We had to add a "Back" button to return to the earlier
linked text or entity. It does linear searches on documents
that have not been indexed. It also permits a four (4) level
library system that allows searches of documents across
document, shelf, stack and department. Imagine today if you
had all web documents in a Dewey or MARC system that could
be searched by topic or title.
Semantic tags in Silversmith allowed more sophisticated
searches. One system that was delivered allowed users to
search for tools identified by tags. Faceted searches could
also be done. The system was delivered with an indexing tool
and an automatic tagging application. It was introduced at a
TechDoc conference in Austria in 1986 and was demonstrated
at about a dozen conferences in Europe, Canada and the U.S.
In 1988, Dr. Ken Baklawski and I sponsored the first
conference on SGML applications and Yuri Rabinski discussed
his SGML editor and I discussed the Silversmith text
retrieval system. There are other advanced search features
in Silversmith that have not yet been released.
One delivered system allowed searches such as:
"find all 'top-secret' paragraphs in the section 'Navy
I met with Charles at the first conference where Silversmith
was demonstrated, and he looked at it with interest. I was
particularly interested in finding out whether there was a
similar product at IBM or that he had knowledge of. He was
not aware of such a tool so I assumed for the time that the
introduction would preclude anyone from a subsequent patent
or from stopping our development. His comment was that this
would be of interesting for certain court cases. Later,
Charles told me that he had served as an expert witness on a
number of patent cases.
Because I sat on the committee that developed the tags I had
been keeping an eye out for anyone beyond our group that
were early adopters. In fact, the committee work was
restricted to the AAP participants who were, for the most
part, the large book publishers in Manhattan and Boston.
Silversmith was successful in that it repaid its initial
investment, but we could not demonstrate to a VC a
significant market potential. One VC told me, "If the market
needed one, they would already have one".
I believe that later systems experienced the same kinds of
response. Ultimately, we found that we were spending a lot
of time in education mode, marketing and creating new web
pages. All this in addition to developing new versions of
the browser. We also found it very difficult to get into
conferences to discuss Silversmith because we were not one
of the "Big 3" companies so our development could not be
that significant. Other projects offered more revenue, so
Silversmith was eventually put on the back burner. The
result was a delay of about 9 years in having access to a
browser, and the one that was eventually successful was "of
European origin", even though the technology was developed
in the U.S.
There were several myths that were brought up when we
discussed Silversmith in public. Some brought on
head-shaking disagreements, and in one case the Apple
Evangelists tried to shout me off the dais at a conference.
In general, the myths followed one of these lines.
a. "All text retrievals should use SQL. You need to put each
paragraph in a table row, and then have SQL search for the
(That would have been very slow for large documents and did
not provide a migration to semantic information. In fact,
Silversmith was built around a B-tree which gave us a
response time of about 1/3 second on the largest documents
we could find, about 500 Megabytes (a CD-ROM's worth).
b. "The AAP tags were not intended for use on computers,
they are for text layout only so you should wait until there
is a more appropriate SGML application."
(In fact we did have to alter the "image" tag to allow for
image type, size and placement.)
c. "SGML can not be used for hypertext links because they
(I argued that with our B-tree structure and the "Back"
button, that navigation was not a problem and demonstrated
2. ERWISE, 1992
"The first graphical Web browser was named Erwise, an
application written for Unix computers running the Windows X
System. It was developed by Kim Nyberg, Kari Syd„nmaanlakka,
Teemu Rantanen, and Kati Borgers, four college students who
attended the Helsinki University of Technology in Finland.
The project began in 1991 and was released in April of 1992.
Erwise is largely credited as a pioneering program and is
the precursor to the modern Internet browser."
"Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, was
instrumental in the development of the first graphical web
browser. Berners-Lee realized that a browser with a
_graphical_ user interface would make the Web significantly
easier to use for Internet surfing. Believing that the
concept would be an ideal project for students, he made
numerous requests to prospective developers around the
"Berners-Lee's request was picked up Ari Lemmke, the
instructor who supervised the four students that eventually
created the browser. The four Finnish students developed a
graphical, point-and-click browser with numerous features
that would not be seen until much later. Their work was
inspired by Robert Cailliau, the Belgian computer scientist
best known for working with Berners-Lee to develop the World
"As the first graphical Web browser, Erwise had many unique
qualities. Among them was its ability to simultaneously load
multiple pages. For example, users could click on a
hyperlink that automatically opened another window featuring
the linked Web page. In fact, Erwise had a number of
capabilities Mosaic lacked, including integrated text
searching that could be performed from any given Web page.
Mosaic, the first graphical Web browser that helped
popularize the Web, still is widely recognized for laying
the groundwork modern browsers would follow."
"The development of the first graphical Web browser came to
a halt after its creators graduated and moved on to other
endeavors. Berners-Lee took a trip to Finland in an attempt
to encourage the group of students to continue their work on
the project. Unfortunately for Erwise, the group could not
proceed with development due to inadequate funding. It has
been said that Berners-Lee would have liked to continue the
project himself but could not do so because the code was
written entirely in Finnish."
3. Unknown CALS browser, 1988
Lost somewhere in my archives is a document outlining the
RFP process for a Navy CALS project. We were able to
demonstrate Silversmith on several CALS technical documents,
yet lost the proposal to a beltway vendor. At this point it
became apparent that even with a conforming CALS working
browser, we were not able to win Federal RFP competitions
against vendors with no extant tools.
4. VIOLA Browser, 1993
...Jennifer Doan, a Texarkana lawyer representing Yahoo and
Amazon, led the questioning.
“Mr. Berners-Lee, why are you here?” asked Doan.
“I am here because I want to help get some clarity over
what was obvious, and what was the feeling of computing
[in the early 1990s]…. The tools I had in my knapsack, so
to speak,” he said.
After describing how Berners-Lee worked at CERN in
Switzerland back in the 1980s, Doan moved on to the web.
When Berners-Lee invented the web, did he apply for a
patent on it, Doan asked.
“No,” said Berners-Lee.
“Why not?” asked Doan.
“The internet was already around. I was taking hypertext,
and it was around a long time too. I was taking stuff we
knew how to do…. All I was doing was putting together bits
that had been around for years in a particular combination
to meet the needs that I have.”
Doan: “And who owns the web?”
Berners-Lee: “We do.”
Doan: “The web we all own, is it ‘interactive’?”
“It is pretty interactive, yeah,” said Berners-Lee,
Then Doan moved on to the heart of Berners-Lee’s
testimony: to establish the importance of the Viola
browser, created by Pei Wei, who was at that time a
computer science student at UC Berkeley. The Viola browser
is a key piece of “prior art” that the defendant companies
hope will invalidate the UC/Eolas patent.
Berners-Lee described Viola as “an important part of the
development of the web.”
The jury was shown an e-mail from Pei Wei to Berners-Lee
dated December 1991 — almost two years before Doyle’s
invention — which read in part: “One thing I’d like to do
soon, if I have time, is to teach the parser about Viola
object descriptions and basically embed Viola objects
(GUIs and programmability) into HTML files.”
Later Tuesday, Wei would testify that he had demonstrated
interactive elements working in the Viola browser to Sun
Microsystems in May 1993 — several months before Doyle
claims to have come up with his invention.
Finally, Doan turned to Berners-Lee’s book, in which he
described Wei as “a very inventive student at UC
Berkeley.” Berners-Lee described how the web community at
that time wasn’t focused on patents or even money — Wei
simply put his invention online for free.
“It was ahead of its time,” said Berners-Lee. “The things
Pei was doing would later be done in Java.” Java was
heavily used in the late 1990s to add interactivity to web
His own act, creating the World Wide Web, was more a
matter of personalities and persuasion than it was a
matter of hammering out code, he explained.
It is my understanding that TBL also used the AAP tag set
in the creation of XML. I was dismayed to find that the
implementation was incomplete, and had stripped much of
the power from the paradigm.
"After further study of these documents and others in the
same subdirectory, it became apparent that most of the
early HTML tags were actually taken from the CERN SGMLGuid
language, which itself was a variant of AAP (an early SGML
language). For example,
title, hn, p, ol and
so on are all apparently taken from this language. The
only radical change was the addition of the all important
anchor (<a>) link, without which the WWW wouldn't
have taken off."
So the W3C graphical (XML) browser followed the same
development path as did Silversmith in 1986.
Tim later said he decided that he would not patent his
browser. I'm not sure to which part he was referring.
- - - - - - - -
About the book, "The Next Computer Revolution"
This is a popular
book for managers, executives and
developers interested in semantic systems. This title is a
working title, and will be changed to sometime a little more
palatable to the target audience. It outlines the nuts and
bolts of a system along with a smattering of jargon needed
to bootstrap the reader into more technical works. The
premise of the book is that we need semantic systems to move
forward and this is one approach to implementing such a
The basic goal is to give a background in implementing
semantic systems along with a suggested architecture for a
general purpose, semantic system. There is also a healthy
dose of discussion of the myths that hinder and restrain new
technology. I mention at least a dozen that mislead
discussions into non-productive approaches to semantic
Concord, MA USA
On 4/8/2012 5:40 PM, Rich Cooper wrote:
who die poor are more the rule than the
exception. I am told that the likelihood of an
arbitrary patent paying its owner more than the
owner paid to prosecute the patent is about one
percent. Today, if you use an attorney or agent,
it costs about ten grand to get an average patent
through the USPTO. About one grand of USPTO fees,
and the rest for the attorney/agent.
did the prosecution myself (you can do that too)
and it cost me about one grand for prosecution,
and another two grand to pay maintenance fees
late. So you can get a better deal, but you have
to understand patent litigation to do it right,