CERN wants us to surf like it’s 1990

The birthplace of the web wants to preserve the first website, and the experience of surfing it

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Tim Berners-Lee's NeXT computer - the world's first web server

Image credit: flickr/raneko

Recently I created a list of 15 geeky places to visit before you die, and one of them was CERN, the European Center for Nuclear Research. It’s a famous place based solely on the science that goes on there, but also because it gave birth to the World Wide Web in 1990. If you can’t afford the trip to Switzerland to bask in those historic web vibes, though, you should soon be able to relive the experience of being one the first people to surf the web, right from the comfort of your own home.

Earlier this year, CERN brought the world's first website back to life (using the original URL, http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html). That was the start of a project, led by CERN’s web manager, Dan Noyes, to preserve as much about that first website, created by Tim Berners-Lee, as possible. The project is called The First Website and its goals are not only to restore and preserve the hardware and software used to serve it up, but to also recreate the experience of visiting that first site twenty years ago.

The project has 8 specific objectives, and they’ve already made some good progress on meeting them, which include things like preserving Berners-Lee’s original NeXT computer as well as the data on it, tracking down the original web site code (what you see today is based on a backup Berners-Lee made - to floppy disk, of course - in 1992) and restoring the site to its original IP address (128.141.201.74).

Developers recreating a line-mode browser

One of the biggest goals of the project is to create a line-mode browser emulator. Since most people in the early 1990s didn’t have computers with graphical user interfaces (or even a mouse), one of CERN’s graduate students, Nicola Pellow, created a browser to work on simple terminals with 24 rows of 80 characters each. Visitors navigated the site with just the keyboard. CERN recently assembled a team of a dozen accomplished developers to create a line-mode browser emulator to work as an app or in a modern day browser.

Additionally, the team wants to recreate the experience of using the first graphical web browser that Berners-Lee created on his NeXT computer, originally called WorldWideWeb and later renamed Nexus.

Lots of work remains to be done, and Noyes and his team would welcome your help. For example, maybe you have that NeXT optical drive from 1990, possibly containing the actual original website code, that went missing at a conference in California, in your attic? If so, or if you have some ideas or resources to donate to the cause, you can reach out to the First Website team here.

In the meantime, don’t take your fancy modern day browser for granted.

Read more of Phil Johnson's #Tech blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Phil on Twitter at @itwphiljohnson. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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