Nearly seven years after it was invented at CERN1, the World-Wide Web has woven its way into every corner of the Internet. On Saturday, 17 February, the inventors of the Web, Tim Berners-Lee, now at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Robert Cailliau of CERN's Electronics and Computing for Physics (ECP) Division, will be honoured with one of computing's highest distinctions: the Association for Computing (ACM) Software System Award 1995. They share this prize with Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina, inventors of the Web browser "Mosaic". ACM is an international scientific and academic organisation, founded in 1947, to promote the art, science, engineering, and application of information technology.
In the space of a few years, the Web has become a social phenomenon. Having started life as a system designed for the small community of high-energy physicists, the Web, has opened up the Internet to the general public. The catalyst for this breakthrough was CERN researchers' need to communicate with colleagues working in universities and institutes all over the world.
It all began in 1989, when Tim Berners-Lee, then working at CERN, proposed a distributed information system for the Laboratory, based on 'hypertext', a way of linking related pieces of information stored on computers. By hiding network addresses behind highlighted items on the screen, information could be linked between several computers. Tim Berners-Lee was then joined by Robert Cailliau who concentrated more on the initial goals of providing tools for the physics community, whilst Berners-Lee continued broader Web development work. The first browser and server were introduced. The Web had arrived, with the world as its library. The system then spread like wildfire throughout the scientific community, for whom it became indispensable.
A further crucial step came in 1993 when the "Mosaic" navigator was developed by two scientists at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), Marc Andreessen and Eric Bina. Since then, the Web has grown exponentially and spread far beyond the scientific community, bringing the Internet to the general public. The Web currently comprises hundreds of thousands of servers through which millions of users are now surfing, learning, playing and communicating at the click of a mouse. Rarely has a new technology developed by fundamental research produced such a rapid and spectacular spin-off.
Tim Berners-Lee read physics at Queen's College Oxford before joining CERN in 1984. He moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology late in 1994 and today runs the World-Wide Web Consortium. Robert Cailliau, holder of Master of Science Degrees from the Universities of Ghent and Michigan, joined CERN in 1974. He plays the leading role in CERN's WWW service. He founded the series of international WWW conferences and participates in the work of the Consortium.
1. CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, has its headquarters in Geneva. At present, its Member States are Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, the Slovak Republic, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Israel, Japan, the Russian Federation, Turkey, the European Commission and Unesco have observer status.