This is part of the “Unsung Heroes” series, highlighting outstanding individuals who don’t always get the public credit they deserve. “Unsung Heroes” is sponsored by Aramark. Read more posts in the series »
Whatever you do, don’t ask Netscape cofounder Eric Bina how he feels about inventing the browser … or the web … or the Internet. If you do, he will adamantly respond that, although he made a contribution, he was certainly not responsible.
In fact, he’s quite happy that his buddy Marc Andreessen has wound up with all the credit for the browser that started it all, Mosaic, and the eventual company, Netscape, that helped turn the Internet into the major thing it is today.
Andreessen, on the other hand, happily names Bina as the true genius behind Mosaic. In a note on Rapgenius, Andreessen wrote:
A lot of people don’t realise that Eric did all the hard programming on Mosaic. As far as I know, the entire time he only ate Skittles and Mountain Dew!
Yet, despite Bina’s protests, and the fact that he has retreated from public life (no interviews, no tech conference speeches, no personal blog) the world insists on honouring him. Just last month, he was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame. A few years before that, he was inducted into the University of Illinois Engineering Hall of Fame, among other accolades.
He found out about this latest honour only after the 2014 inductees were announced.
“I got a tweet one day, and that’s how I found out I was inducted into Hall of Fame,” he told Business Insider, granting us a rare interview.
Nevertheless, he’s reluctant to stand up and take a bow for a number of reasons:
1. He says it was Andreessen’s drive who turned Netscape and the browser into the success it was.
“Marc is much more responsible than me for the way things happened. Marc is a strong driving force for changing the world. He is clearly driven to do that. We were friends. We worked together. He’s a fun guy and I had fun working with him, but on my own I don’t feel driven to change anything but my own situation,” he told us.
2. He says Tim Berners-Lee deserves all the limelight and more for inventing the Web.
“One obvious thing, the web browser was invented by Tim Berner’s Lee. He wrote the first web browser, and the guy doesn’t get nearly enough credit,” Bina told us.
3. Bina is also convinced that the web browser and web would have happened without him.
“We popularised the web browser and we helped popularise the web but there were other web browsers, besides ours, like Tim’s ViolaWWW, and the MidasWWW web browser. Due to issues in the way they were written and distributed, they didn’t become popular and ours did,” he said.
“To say we’re wonderful for inventing it is wrong. To say we made significant contributions is accurate. But there were a number of people coming up with similar things. If it hadn’t been us, it would have happened anyway,” he says.
But it was him, Andreessen and Netscape that succeeded, and not just because of luck. The Mosaic browser worked great and Netscape had the brilliant idea of giving it away for free. Giving software away for free to build a user base was a radical new idea in those days.
The free browser encouraged businesses to buy software to create websites. And here we are today.
As for Bina, he’s always been happy to remain in the shadows. The title on his card at Netscape was “unsung hero,” and a couple of decades later, he prefers to remain that way.
Disclosure: Marc Andreessen is an investor in Business Insider.
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