Great browser software in 1996

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:, or follow me on Twitter.

These technologies sound so amazing, I wonder what happened to them?

Atlas is the precursor to the next step in Navigator’s evolution, Version 3.0. It’s “alpha” code; in other words, that celebrated tower in Pisa is more stable. When it works, Atlas promises to deliver:

VRML viewing. VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) is one of the competing standards for expressing three-dimensional information in compact form. VRML documents can be static or interactive. For example, you could create a Web page that hosts a virtual “village.” Visitors could “explore” the village by clicking and dragging. Shades of Apple’s e-World!
Audio playback. Prior to Atlas, to hear an audio file you had to install an external “audio player” like RealAudio, or save the sound file and play it with the Media Player. Navigator Version 3 will include a player for the most popular sound formats: AIFF, AU, MIDI, WAV. The new player is based on the Navigator Plug-In API, so it works seamlessly with the browser.
Atlas is also (supposedly) able to play back AVI motion video files, though I haven’t been able to get this to work yet.
Phone. The alpha browser contains a very impressive add-on called CoolTalk. Eventually, CoolTalk will be able to provide live voice connections over the Net, much as Vocaltec’s commercial “Internet Phone” does now. It’s a little unstable at the moment, but the theory’s there.
Chat. CoolTalk’s “Chat” mode is a precursor of Internet telephony. Since the very earliest days of Unix, computers running that arcane operating system have included a “talk” or “chat” utility that allows two users to hold a real-time keyboarded conversation. What one user typed would appear on the other’s terminal and vice-versa.
CoolTalk provides a windowed version of this venerable technology. Using it, you can converse–one keystroke at a time–with anyone else in the world that has access to an Internet connection and a Chat utility.
Whiteboard. This is one of the most fascinating innovations in the new browser: CoolTalk’s “Shared Whiteboard” mode. Whiteboard is really fun to play with; a group of people can use simple tools to scrawl on a virtual drawing board; each person connected to the drawing “group” receives all the changes made by members of the group.
There are a number of other, less important improvements, such as: more logical “forward and back” navigation in frames; a new “background color” attribute for HTML table cells (what’s another unilateral HTML extension between friends?); enhancements to the supplied USENET news and Net Mail clients; and some changes in the way Navigator interprets Web pages (hopefully intended to make the browser crash less often).

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