20 years of a free Web

Tristan Nitot

Tim Berners-Lee and Mitchell Baker

Tim Berners-Lee and Mitchell Baker

Twenty years ago this week, something important happened to the Web: it was set free. On April 30th, 1993, the software powering the Web was put in the Public Domain. From that moment, it became possible for everyone to set his own Web server and use formats and protocols of the Web without have to pay royalties.

In short, everyone could now create a piece of the Web without having to ask for permission. This, combined with the simplicity of the Web concepts (URL, HMTL and HTTP), made the Web the success that we know and love.

On that date, without people really thinking about it, the world changed.

Robert Caillau, who worked with Tim Berners-Lee at the time, explains it well:

There are only very few crucial properties of WWW: it sits on top of the internet naming scheme, it is such simple hypertext that it does scale up indefinitely, it uses a simple text-based format, it is guided by open, free standards that anyone may contribute to. And it was made available for free very early on.

Twenty years later, the Web is everywhere. It has changed the world, the way we learn, how we communicate and work. The Web is facing challenges, for sure, but it could be on the verge of changing the mobile industry, if Firefox OS is as successful as we want it to be.

In the meantime, I want to thank Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Caillau for making the right decision 20 years ago:

Finally, as we were more interested in the excitement of making something useful than in getting rich, we opted for using the old CERN model for technology spin-off: make it available.

Sharing and empowering instead of closing things down. That’s a fantastic example of how people can change the world. It’s also really close to Mozilla’s approach!