Anniversaries: September 1995 – JavaScript

Well, I meant to post about this a couple months ago but better late than never.

September was the 20th anniversary of the release of Netscape Navigator 2.0 beta 1. For those who don’t remember, Navigator was the big dog of browsers in the 90’s until Internet Explorer steadily edged it out at the end of the decade. In 1995 Navigator had, roughly, 85% of the browser share on the Web. It was the browser to beat, and introduced a lot of new features and capabilities to web pages. Many give it credit for popularizing the internet. Back in 2007 PC World named it #1 on a list of 50 Best Tech Products of All Time.

One interesting feature that appeared in the first beta of Navigator 2.0 was an integrated scripting language called LiveScript. By the time beta 3 was released in December of 1995 Netscape had decided to capitalize on the rising popularity of Sun Microsystems Java platform by renaming LiveScript to (the wildly misleading) JavaScript. Within two years it had become an official standard and most web browsers had their own implementation.

javascript-with-cool-lens-flareI remarked to somebody recently that javascript is like the guy who gets hired to be janitor but winds up becoming president of the company. When I started web developing in 2000 most JavaScript (or JScript as the Internet Explorer flavor is known) appeared in very small amounts on websites to provide simple form validation, on the fly computation (“take the number in the QUANTITY text box, multiply it by the number in the PRICE text box and place the product in the TOTAL text box”) and swapping one image with another when the mouse rolled over it. It got the reputation as a needless embellishment to web pages that also introduced security problems. A lot of web developers advised everyone: “turn JavaScript off.”

These days a serious web application like Gmail can use hundreds of thousands of lines of JavaScript code, and most of the really advanced features of the web would be impossible without it.

It also used to be the case that web developers (like myself) came out of other areas of computer science or software development and had programming experience with languages like C, which JavaScript directly borrows the syntax of. These days a lot of people are diving into web development without previous coding experience and JavaScript is their their first exposure to a programming language.

1 Comment

  • Owen Taylor

    I remember attending a conference Lizard Tech had in Chicago in maybe early 1996 when the two main things that grabbed the audience’s attention were Javascript and Adobe Pagemill. Both were like magic, particularly when the presenter instantly created a multi-cell table. Thanks for the stroll down memory lane.

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