In 1995, while working for Netscape, Brendan Eich came up with a programming language that he developed in just 10 days and today is used the world over by millions of developers. It was the era of the dotcom boom when Netscape was the best (and only) web browser around and 56K dial-up modems were the epitome of speed.
Even before joining Netscape, Eich was a pioneer in computer languages, having written a number of them for Silicon Graphics (SG). It was pure employee-driven innovation very similar to what Robots & Pencils is encouraging with their own employees.
But Eich was unique. He had a knack for computer languages, and apart from building extensions into network monitoring tools for Silicon Graphics (SG), he’d even written some languages on his own time, for fun. It was, in fact, the founder of SG who, knowing Eich’s prowess for programming languages, invited him to join Netscape after he founded it in 1994 to write a language that could be incorporated into the browser.
Eich didn’t arrive at Netscape until 1995, and by then it had a deal with Sun Microsystems, which was pushing its new Java language for Netscape. It looked like Eich’s little browser language was redundant and doomed to extinction even before it was created.
Eich recalls how at the time he felt pressure on two fronts. First, some at Netscape thought that there was no need for a second language if they already had Java. They didn’t see the benefit of a Visual Basic-like companion language to help mainstream programmers.
Second, there was Microsoft breathing down their necks having tried once already to buy Netscape in 1994. Microsoft became a mortal threat and was aggressively pushing its Internet Explorer in an attempt to squeeze Netscape out of the market.
Envisioning a user-friendly language
But Eich, Bill Joy of Sun Microsystems, and Marc Andreessen of Netscape, as well as a few other visionaries, saw a need for a language that was more user-friendly and approachable, and that could be put directly onto a webpage. Eich’s aim was to create something just like Basic that could be used by people who didn’t know what a compiler was.
Written exclusively for Outthinker.com by Sue Richards.