Twenty years ago (Jan 5th, 2020) Steve Jobs demoed Internet Explorer 5 for Mac. The app was chosen by Jobs for its bold UI, which was developed in complete secrecy within Microsoft but had an uncanny resemblance of the yet-to-be-unveiled Acqua interface of Mac OS X.

Maf Vosburgh, one of the developers who worked on the project, writes:

Coming from the artist-influenced multimedia world, the visual style Microsoft had in progress for Mac IE 5 looked ancient to me. Everything was the MacOS platinum style, shades of gray like cement, with a horde of tiny 16 by 16 pixel toolbar icons (in 4-bit color with a 1 bit mask) most of which had obviously been designed by engineers in a pixel editor like ResEdit.

I had the idea of making our browser chrome match the actual hardware you were on. If your Mac’s bezel was Bondi blue, we’d make our UI Bondi blue. That way our “frame” around the web page would match the bezel and so would be seen as part of the background and be distinct from the content. By being more vivid we would paradoxically blend into the background, and look more at home. […]

I put my idea to the rest of the Mac IE team, and they loved it. […] It rapidly came together and in Summer 1999 we demoed the secret New Look build of Mac IE5 to Steve Jobs, the first person to see it outside Nykris and a few people on the Mac IE team. Steve gave it his enthusiastic approval. Yeah!

So eventually MacWorld January 2000 came along, the venue for unveiling the Mac IE 5 beta. Steve Jobs insisted on doing the Mac IE 5 demo himself. Tnis is where things got a little surprising. Steve first showed a new build of Mac OS X which had a new user interface called “Aqua”. This looked, well, just like the Nykris design we’d been using for half a year at that point.

Steven Levy, writing on Wired around 30 years ago on the rise of spreadsheets:

Increasingly, however, businessmen are not telling but letting their spreadsheets do the talking. Because a spreadsheet looks so authoritative – and it was done by a computer, wasn’t it? – the hypothetical models get accepted as gospel. The spreadsheet presentation is becoming both more commonplace and more sophisticated: not only the numbers but the formats of the sheets themselves are designed to make eloquent points. This use of spreadsheets has less to do with productivity or insightful analysis than with the art of persuasion. “People doing negotiations now sit down with spreadsheets,” Bob Frankston said. “When you’re trying to sell a car, the standard technique is to ask for the other person’s objections, and then argue them away. If two people are in front of a spreadsheet, and one says, ‘Well, the numbers say this,’ the other can’t say, ‘Yes, but there’s something I can’t quite point to.’”

Read-Only Memory publishes high-quality books that document videogame history.

Oona Räisänen:

If you ever connected to the Internet before the 2000s, you probably remember that it made a peculiar sound. But despite becoming so familiar, it remained a mystery for most of us. What do these sounds mean? […]

The first thing we hear in this example is a dial tone, the same tone you would hear when picking up your landline phone. The modem now knows it’s connected to a phone line and can dial a number. The number is signaled to the network using Dual-Tone Multi-Frequency signaling, or DTMF, the same sounds a telephone makes when dialing a number.

The remote modem answers with a distinct tone that our calling modem can recognize. They then exchange short bursts of binary data to assess what kind of protocol is appropriate. This is called a V.8 bis transaction.

A great gallery by Larry Luckham, who captured the daily life at the Bell Labs datacenter he used to work for in the late 60s.

What’s immediately noticeable is the number of women who used to work at the place. As a recent New York Times article explains, gender balance in tech used to be much better than it is today:

Employers simply looked for candidates who were logical, good at math and meticulous. And in this respect, gender stereotypes worked in women’s favor: Some executives argued that women’s traditional expertise at painstaking activities like knitting and weaving manifested precisely this mind-set. (The 1968 book “Your Career in Computers” stated that people who like “cooking from a cookbook” make good programmers.)

Things changed for the worse when programming started to be perceived as a noble activity (back then, developing the software had a lower status over building the hardware) and when personal computers entered everyday life (parents encouraged boys to play with them, less so girls).

(via @kottke)

Jeremy Keith:

Nine people came together at CERN for five days and made something amazing. I still can’t quite believe it.

Coming into this, I thought it was hugely ambitious to try to not only recreate the experience of using the first ever web browser (called WorldWideWeb, later Nexus), but to also try to document the historical context of the time.

The documentation itself is well worth a read:

Today it’s hard to imagine that web browsers might also be used to create web pages. It turned out that people were quite happy to write HTML by hand—something that Tim Berners-Lee and colleagues never expected. They thought that some kind of user interface would be needed for making web pages and links. That’s what the WorldWideWeb browser provided. You could open a document in one window and “mark” it. Then, in a document in another window, you could create a link to the marked page.

You’ll notice as you use the WorldWideWeb browser that you need to double-click links to open them. That’s because a single click was used for editing.