The History of Interactive Computer Graphics - Part 5

Pixar Luxo jr.

The History of Interactive Computer Graphics

Computer graphics, animations and interactions with digital equipment are now self-evident. You just have to pick up your smartphone, tablet, desktop computer or what else and you feel intuitively when you have to swipe, click, drag or pinch zoom. You also expect nothing less than nice interfaces with smooth animations.

In this blog series, of which this is the fifth part of six, I like to take you on a journey through time with our focus on the development before and during the creation of computers, digital graphics, animations, graphical interfaces, graphics software, interactivity, 3D, a pinch of the first games, the creation of the internet and a touch of virtual reality. If I could even mention the largest part of influential events, that would be a world achievement. So that's just impossible. Instead, I like to point out a number of events that I think have made an important contribution to getting where we are now. Sometimes with a slight side-road to a development that indirectly made an important contribution or reflects the spirit of the times and relations between events. Although I personally find audio and music are very important and interesting and I have always been involved in producing music, I have made the decision to omit audio developments in this series to keep the series somewhat concise and focused.

For this series I've made more than 110 illustrations and I normally provide each part with at least one interactive to illustrate the events as well as possible and make them become alive for you. Sometimes I make more than one interactive in a part, but in this case I leave the interactive out because of more content in the form of text.

If you haven't yet read part one to part four, it is worth reading them first.

Part 5

In this part, we will see the emergence of major graphics software. Software programs that are still market leaders today. We'll see how software programs have moved from one company to another. And also the rise of the internet and internet techniques that we still use today.

Next to this we will see other remarkable developments in the game console market that might surprise you, and 3D modeling software and graphical interfaces also reached an increasing audience during this period and became common.

It is interesting to see how technical developments were increasingly focusing on software instead of hardware during this period, despite the fact that there are of course just as many, or maybe even more, hardware developments than in preceding periods.

We start with the first software package that would eventually make a very important contribution to interactives on the internet, but started with CD-Roms: MacroMind VideoWorks.

MacroMind VideoWorks

1985: MacroMind VideoWorks/Director

A few developers under the name MacroMind had built a multimedia application for the Mac called SoundVision. That program allowed media elements such as graphics and text to be synchronized with music using MIDI timing. At the urgent request of their software publisher Hayden, they split the application into the applications MusicWorks and VideoWorks, the last of which was released in June 1985.

Until then, Apple was still using cassette tapes for their training sessions, so game and software developer Jay Fenton of MacroMind wrote a special VideoWorks edition in December that year that integrated the scripting language Tiny BASIC to create interactive training videos. MacroMind has started self-publishing the following versions of VideoWorks. In 1987 this was renamed 'Director 1.0'.

A temporary step forward: In 1988 Tiny BASIC was replaced by the proprietary scripting language LINGO and a Windows version was also released in the early 1990s. In 1989 MacroMind released their latest version of Director with version 3.0. In 1993 the company was bought by Macromedia and the product was renamed Macromedia Director.

Pixar Image Computer

1986: Pixar Image Computer (PIC)

The Computer Division Group, the club of very important people in the world of computer graphics, led by Ed Catmull, which we already read about in part three, wanted to make graphics for movies, but the quality was still too poor due to technological limitations. That is why the team decided to build and sell hardware (computers).

In 1985, Steve Jobs had to leave Apple due to management hassles, and in 1986, in addition to starting a new company of his own, he took over the group from Lucasfilm's Computer Division. Jobs paid $ 5 million for the acquisition and then invested an additional $ 5 million in the new company. The company was named Pixar.

Initially, the intention was that the new company would focus on making and selling computer hardware. About three months after the takeover, the developed computer was therefore on the market as the Pixar Image Computer (PIC). At the time, this was a state of the art computer for graphical calculations. But it was also an expensive computer in a new market, so demand did not run wild. The first machine cost a whopping $ 135,000 and also needed a workstation from, for example, Silicon Graphics for another $ 35,000. The machine was far ahead of its time and was also widely sold for the medical world, for example, but the large numbers were not forthcoming.

John Lasseter therefore made a demo video with 3D graphics for promotion which was shown during the SIGGRAPH conference to show what the computer was capable of.

Pixar Luxo jr.

1986: First CGI-shadow and first animation made by Pixar

That movie was Luxar Jr. A short 3D animation film of a lamp and her child that is perhaps the most iconic example of inverse kinematics ever and ultimately everyone knows this as the Pixar logo for many years now.

The animation is special not only because of the influence it has had on Pixar's history. Groundbreaking new techniques were also used in the graphics. It is the first 3D animation film ever to use shadows. The film was made with the photo-realistic Renderman software that the Pixar guys wrote themselves. The short is also the first ever CGI film to be nominated for an Academy Award.

There are several copies of the short film on YouTube. Including this one.

Adobe Illustrator

1987: Adobe Illustrator 1.0

In the following year, Adobe launched a self-written and important addition to the home user: Illustrator 1.0. This first version, in which designs with vectors could already be designed with the help of Bezier curves, among others, was initially only available for the Mac, but later in 1989 would also be available on PC with version 2.0.

It wasn't the first vector graphics editor to hit that market. For example, Aldus FreeHand, which was also released around that period, was an important competitor. Illustrator would become an important player in the professional graphics industry when designing fonts and logos, among others. And eventually become the market leader and industry standard years later. A copy of the original Illustrator 1.0 promotional video is available on the Adobe Creative Cloud YouTube channel.

Years later, in September 1994, Adobe took over competitor Aldus, but not their illustrator competitor Freehand, which went to Macromedia instead.


1987: The GIF file format

That same year, on June 15, the online service provider CompuServe came up with a new graphic file format. The now in 2020 still both famous and infamous Graphics Interchange Format, aka GIF.

A GIF could save a raster image with colors from an 8-bit palette. The file format was specially developed for the Internet to exchange files and therefore used compression to make files smaller for faster exchange.

Two years later, in 1989, the GIF format also added features for transparent pixels and frame animations. At a time when stylesheets such as CSS and JavaScript did not yet exist and so scripts could not yet run for logic or style sheets for layouts within websites, GIF thus became the very first possibility for animations on the internet.

Around 1994 there was controversy about the license agreement of the LZW compression method that was used within GIF. Patent holder Unisys began to require software makers to pay for licenses to use LZW in programs.

The PNG format was created in 1995 as an alternative and in particular many open-source programs therefore switched to PNG instead. In 2006, the last GIF-relevant LZW patents in all countries expired, but PNG for still images with transparency had become the standard for online. In addition, PNG also supports semi-transparency, so that gradients can be made in the transparency.

Vpl datasuit

1987: Virtual Reality for the masses

While browsers still lacked ways to style and add logic to websites, the developments in the field of virtual reality continued as usual. In the same year when CompuServe came out with the GIF format, Jaron Zepel Lanier, founder of VPL Research, the company that was working hard in the field of virtual reality, as we just saw, made use of the term 'Virtual Reality' for the first time in history.

At the time of writing (I write this in 2020), it has actually only in recent years been given a boost again and has become popular after a period without visible developments for a while. And it has been renamed marketing wise into the hip abbreviation VR.

Adobe Photoshop

1988: Photoshop 1.0

In 1987 the American Thomas Knoll, Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan, programming a software program called 'Display'. This program could display grayscale images on a monochrome screen. His brother John Knoll, who worked for the American visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic, saw this and on his advice Thomas developed the program into full-fledged graphic editing software called Photoshop.

In the same year, Thomas signed a deal with manufacturer Barneyscan to supply the software with their slide scanner. When Thomas also showed the software to Apple and Adobe, Adobe decided in September 1988 to purchase a license. Photoshop 1.0, which ran only on the Apple Mac, was released on February 19, 1990. Later there would also be a PC version of the program. I found a video of Photoshop 1.0 on YouTube here.

Now, many years later, at least at the time of writing in 2020, Photoshop is still the industry standard and 'to photoshop' is even a common verb that everyone knows.


1989: The birth of HTML and The Internet

In part two of this series we saw that in 1972 the ARPANET network was set up, for which plans were already made in 1963. In 1983 this network switched to the TCP/IP protocol, with which the current internet was born in terms of network technologies. But HTML, with which all internet pages are still built up to this day, did not yet exist at that time.

In 1989, the Belgian computer scientist Robert Cailliau and the English computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee independently presented the HyperText Markup Language system (HTML). These proposals led to a joint proposal in 1990 and then to the World Wide Web (www). The ARPANET had now become the Internet and worked with pages built with HTML. Compared to how websites look today (in 2020) this was very primitive and CSS, to add styling to pages, did not yet exist. Not even JavaScript, so all pages were still static. But HTML was a big step forward though.


1989: Nintendo Game Boy

We saw in the previous part how Nintendo gained a foothold outside Japan. I don't mean to be complete all over this blog series because that's just not possible and the series would be very long. But I still want to mention the Nintendo Game Boy for the sense of time. I find it interesting to see how the relationship is between parallel technical developments and the Nintendo Game Boy is really an icon that should not be missed and reflects the end of the eighties and beginning of the nineties.

The first Game Boy was launched by Nintendo on April 21, 1989, making it the very first handheld game console to work with cartridges on the market. On July 31 of the same year, the device was also launched in the United States and a year later it was Europe's turn.


1989: The birth of the CD-Rom

Another development that has meant a lot to games and other multimedia applications is the CD-Rom.

The CD-Rom format (the Yellow Book standard) was an extension of the Audio CD (the Red Book standard) and was developed in 1982 by the Japanese Denon and established in 1984 by Sony and Philips. The CD-Rom was released around 1985, but it was only four years later that it was actually 'discovered' and used in computers. The first CD-Roms could only be pre-printed at the factory.

With the advent of the CD-Rom, the gaming industry has grown significantly, as it allowed significantly more data to be recorded on the disc than was possible on floppy disks. It was therefore possible for the first time to display beautiful graphics in games and multimedia applications.

1990 - 1999
3D Studio

1990: First version 3D Studio (DOS)

More and more graphics software became available on the new personal computer market and in 1990 Autodesk released the first version of 3D Studio (later called 3D Studio Max / 3ds Max). This software was the first affordable 3D modeling, rendering and animation software to run on an IBM compatible PC.

Autodesk previously also had 3D software under the name AutoShade, but Autodesk dropped that product after the arrival of 3D Studio.

In 1988, The Yost Group had already started building this software under DOS under the working title THUD and it was eventually published by Kinetix, the media and entertainment division of Autodesk. Autodesk soon bought the product and started developing it itself.

It is remarkable that until 1994 the software was only available for MS-DOS. A Windows version was only released for the first time in 1996.

Windows 3 1

1990: Windows 3.0 and Multimedia

So 3D Studio was only delivered for DOS, while Microsoft already launched their third version of Windows in the same year as the release of 3D Studio on May 22. Soon followed by 'Windows 3.1 with Multimedia Extensions'. With this Windows version in particular, the Graphical User Interface (GUI) now really became mainstream and the norm for personal computers. With Windows 3, the IBM compatible PC now also became a direct competitor for the Apple Macintosh, the Atari ST and the Commodore Amiga.

From now on, DOS programs could run in a DOS window within Windows and with the 'multimedia' 3.1 update that came out a year later, CD-Rom drives and sound cards were also supported and multimedia applications included, such as a media player and an audio-CD player.

Windows 3 is also the first Windows version to be pre-installed on hard drives of new PCs. As a result of which Windows quickly became the norm and pretty much every PC user started using it. Which significantly increased the competitive position compared to other major graphics systems, such as Apple, Atari and Commodore.

Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning.

Bill Gates
WorldWideWeb browser

1990-1991: First webserver, web browser, WYSIWYG HTML editor and website

In 1990 Tim Berners-Lee was, we just read about him because in 1989 he was also the founder of the World Wide Web, the very first to develop a web browser after two months of work, together with others. He was also the first to develop a web server at the time.

The browser, which was also the very first WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) HTML editor ever, was named WorldWideWeb. It was later renamed Nexus to avoid confusion with the World Wide Web it was used for. The browser was programmed on a NeXT Computer when Tim was employed at CERN, the well-known European agency based in Switzerland that researches elementary particles and at the time of writing (2020) is best known for their particle accelerator.

In August a year later, Tim Berners-Lee was also the first in the world to put a website live on the web.

Today, this man is the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), the organization that has been providing web standards since 1994.

On April 4, 2017, Tim Berners-Lee was awarded the A.M. Turing Award, say the Nobel Prize in Computer Science, for inventing the World Wide Web, the first web browser and fundamental protocols and algorithms for the web.

Nintendo PlayStation

1991: Nintendo PlayStation

We saw in part four of this series that there were plans for a collaboration between Atari and Nintendo in 1983. A few years later Nintendo and Sony started a close partnership.

Sony already supplied the sound chips for the Nintendo consoles, so when Nintendo had plans for a game console system based on CD-Roms, Nintendo already had an entrance to Sony. The intention was that Sony would make an add-on for the Famicom/NES, so that a CD player could be connected via the cartridge input.

The collaboration got off to a good start and various prototypes were made. But things went wrong when Sony indicated that it wanted the rights to all the games that would appear on the CDs. Nintendo also understood that CD was the future and wanted those rights itself. Nintendo therefore contacted Philips, who meanwhile was working on their interactive system, the Compact Disc Interactive, or CDi.

In June 1991, unaware of this, Sony proudly announced at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) that they had partnered with Nintendo to jointly build a new CD add-on for the Super Nintendo. An add-on that would be called PlayStation.

The day after however, Nintendo also held a press conference, with a lot of press in attendance due to Sony's announcement the day before. But Nintendo told its visitors that the deal with Sony would be broken and that the 'Super Disc', as Nintendo called it, would not be developed by Sony, but by Philips. All knowledge of the preliminary work and prototyping that Sony had already done for the project thus went directly to competitor Philips.

Sony was of course furious and that Nintendo had gone to Philips for a collaboration behind Sony's back was also not appreciated by the external game developers from Japan who made games for Nintendo. It is an unwritten rule in Japan that you do business with national companies in the first instance. Especially given the recession at that time. Also, some external game developers were already making games for the upcoming PlayStation system from Nintendo and Sony and all that work would now end up in the trash bin.

Sony and Nintendo tried to make up and there even was a new deal between the two. But nothing came of it and trust was gone. During this deal Sony went to Sega for a collaboration without the knowledge of Nintendo, but Sega wasn't interested, because they themselves said they would come up with something 'revolutionary'.

In March 2020 a prototype of the Nintendo PlayStation fetched $ 360,000 (nearly $ 320,000) at a Heritage Auctions auction. The prototype is therefore the most expensive game object ever so far, according to the BBC.

On YouTube, Ben Heck took apart a rare prototype of a viewer's Nintendo PlayStation and tried to get it working. An interesting video to watch, you can find it here on YouTube.


1992: Introduction OpenGL

In the previous part, we saw that Silicon Graphics used their own graphics API IrisGL to generate both 2D and 3D graphics. However, this was closed source, so only available and transparent to Silicon Graphics itself.

It became increasingly difficult for Silicon Graphics to maintain IrisGL. So in 1991 the company decided to convert IrisGL to an open standard called OpenGL. Version 1.0 was released on June 30, 1992. OpenGL, which stands for Open Graphics Library, is a cross-language, cross-platform API for rendering 2D and 3D vector graphics using a GPU for hardware acceleration. OpenGL soon became widely used for games, scientific visualizations, virtual reality and CAD (Computer-Aided Design).

The same year as its release, the OpenGL Architecture Review Board (OpenGL ARB) was also established to maintain and extend the specification. In addition to Silicon Graphics, the participants also include other important companies, such as IBM, Intel, Nvidea, Apple, Dell, ATI, 3DLabs and Sun Microsystems. And initially Microsoft for a while. We will soon see why Microsoft would eventually leave the group.

A jump in time: In 2004, OpenGL 2.0 was launched, adding very important new technologies that have provided many optimizations and possibilities for materials: Vertex Shaders and Fragment Shaders (Pixel Shaders). It is outside of this blog to explain these technologies, but click on the links for more information on Wikipedia or Google for the terms.

Since 2006, OpenGL has been operated by the non-profit organization Khronos Group, which includes representatives from many important companies. At a lower level, OpenGL is still maintained by the OpenGL ARB.

Currently, at the time of writing (in 2020), OpenGL is supported on every (game) platform, including Apple Mac, Windows, Linux, PlayStation 3, Nintendo WII, iPhone, PSP and DS.wri

Now back to 1993 again!

Mosiac browser

1993: The first public web browser: Mosaic

We just saw that the very first ever web browser was around in 1990, but in 1993 the University of Illinois' National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NSCA) released the very first graphical web browser. Well, graphically by then standards, because the browser was able to display images inline with text instead of having to open an image in a separate window.

But that isn't the only reason I include this browser in this article. In addition to the fact that this browser was actually the first real public internet browser and therefore also became well known, this browser would prove to be of great importance in the further development of internet browsers to this day (now 2020); see note.

Just a trip ahead: A year later, Marc Andreessen, co-author of the Mosaic browser software, started the company Mosaic Communications and took over many of the original NSCA Mosaic employees. With this company a start was made on a new browser that was given the working title 'Mozilla' and should eventually be renamed 'Mosaic Netscape'. However, they didn't want to share the code with the original Mosaic team and since the working title Mozilla stood for Mosaic Killer, it was clear that their goal was to get rid of the original Mosaic browser, which was the most popular at the time.

The Mosaic Netscape browser was released at the end of 1994 and had a market share of 75% within four months. The name was changed to Netscape Navigator due to rights and it became the main internet browser of the 90s.

The code of Netscape Navigator was later developed as open source and became Mozilla Firefox. The original Mosaic, that is, the original competitor, was discontinued in 1997 and Microsoft then stepped on their doorstep to take over their code to create Internet Explorer, which was released in 1995.

You can see that this Mosaic club has formed the basis for major browsers since then. And that both Internet Explorer and Firefox both have the same origin.

After Effects

1993: After Effects

And then we are at a product from the Adobe fleet again. At least that has been the case for years in 2020. But After Effects wasn't originally developed by Adobe either. As we also saw that Photoshop, for example, was not initially developed by Adobe.

The video effects software program After Effects was marketed in January 1993 by the American Company of Science and Art (COSA) of Rhode Island, United States. The first versions were only suitable for the Apple Mac.

A Windows version of After Effects would eventually be released four years later. The package went from company to company, of which the Aldus Corporation was the first company and it eventually came into the hands of Adobe which at the time of writing (2020) still is the owner. Adobe eventually released its own version of the package in 1995.

Back to 1994!

Sony PlayStation

1994: Sony PlayStation

We just saw that the cooperation between Nintendo and Sony wasn't exactly pleasant and that cooperation between the two was no longer realistic. Even though they still pretended to have a deal and actually did; trust was gone, so it was doomed to fail.

Sony understood that game developers had already made games for the new Nintendo-Sony CD system and therefore decided to continue the PlayStation project in-house and eventually compete directly with Nintendo. Sony had to pull out some diplomatic and corporate political tricks to be able to continue to work with Philips on the development of the DVD at the same time.

Sony decided to develop a game console based on the PlayStation itself. The question was whether Sony would go for 2D sprite graphics, such as in the Nintendo, or 3D polygon techniques. Ultimately, when Sega was successful with their 3D-based Virtua Fighter game, Sony decided and opted for 3D. With today's knowledge, this turned out to be the right choice.

In 1994, Sony announced the Sony PlayStation that directly received a lot of attention. Game developers were eager to switch to developing for Sony when they saw that Nintendo didn't switch to CD, but kept making cartridges instead. The first PlayStation was released on December 3, 1994.

In the end, the Sony PlayStation sold a lot more games than Nintendo and completely pushed out Sega as well.

In retrospect, it was probably the intention from the beginning that Sony would want to enter the console game market with its own console.

Shockwave Player

1995: Shockwave Player

At the beginning of this part, we saw that the MacroMind company with their VideoWorks software had been acquired by Macromedia in 1993 and their interactive animation package was remarketed as Macromedia Director. By that year, Director was already used to make most CD-Rom games and educational CD-Roms and was especially popular because it could generate both Windows and Apple executables. Macromedia Director quickly became the standard production tool for the multimedia industry.

At the time of the takeover, the team already had big plans for the program, due to the increasingly popular internet. So they were working on building a browser plug-in for the Netscape Navigator browser to be able to play the interactive animations created in Director within that browser. Until then, there was no possibility of playing animations or even actually styling an internet page in a browser. CSS and JavaScript didn't even exist yet. The plug-in was named Shockwave Player and was released along with Director 4.0 in 1995.


1995: Introduction of JavaScript

Because the founder of Netscape Navigator was missing a possibility in their browser to let developers write components and plug-ins themselves, Brendan Eich was hired in 1995 to write a programming language for the browser. Netscape had also spoken to Sun Microsystems, the makers of the Java programming language, about integrating Java into the browser. In any case, it was certain that the new scripting language would have the same syntax as Java.

In May 1995, after just ten days, Brenan Eich delivered a prototype for the new scripting language. It was first called Mocha, then LiveScript, and finally, with the Netscape 2.0 beta release in December of that year, it was renamed JavaScript. With the advent of JavaScript for the first time it was possible to make pages interactive and dynamic with a scripting language that was executed directly in the browser.

Unlike other programming languages, the language didn't have to be compiled first. The language was initially super simple and seemed mainly intended for designers than 'real' programmers. But this also meant that the web grew faster and faster and eventually, years later, the language gradually matured.

Starting with JavaScript version 1.2, the event model is also available, allowing code to be run triggered by events, such as a click, a key press, a change, etc.

Initially, JavaScript was Netscape's proprietary scripting language. The big competitor Microsoft Internet Explorer 3 wanted that too and introduced JScript, which was a reversed engineered variant of the original JavaScript language. With that the popular Internet Explorer browser and the then-current 'browser wars' between Netscape and Internet Explorer certainly helped JavaScript growing.

JavaScript normally runs in the user's browser, but in December 1995 Netscape also introduced a server-side variant of JavaScript. Since 1996, the IIS web server also has an ASP and ASP.NET integration of their server-side JavaScript, JScript.

Finally, in 1996 Netscape asked ECMA International to draw up a standard specification for the language. Due to rights issues with the JavaScript name, which was too similar to Java, the specification was renamed ECMAScript.

Not only JavaScript used this new ECMAScript standard, but other languages, such as Flash's ActionScript, would use the standard. But we are not that far in the timeline yet, so back to 1995!

Toy story

1995: First fully 3D CGI generated motion picture film: Toy Story

Until 1995, Pixar hadn't released an animated film that was longer than five minutes. That changed in 1991 after tough negotiations between Steve Jobs, on behalf of Pixar, and Disney's Jeffrey Katzenberg. Pixar then struck a deal with Disney to make three computer-animated movies. The first movie became Toy Story, and the success of that movie is why Pixar still exists today.

For Pixar it was make or break at the time and there were plans to sell the company because it was in the red despite the $ 54 million Steve Jobs had invested in the company. At the time of the negotiations for the deal with Disney, Pixar was already selling the hardware company they had become and decided to go back to their original roots and passion: creating creative computer animated movies.

I love working for a company full of geeks.

John Lasseter

Toy Story was a good learning experience for Pixar, both in terms of storylines and technologies used. The film was rendered on 117 Sun Microsystems workstations. The first version of the story was disapproved by Disney, but after hard work, editing and refinement, it eventually became the good movie it is today and became a great success. It eventually became the first real full-length CGI generated 3D motion picture film.

Let's take a step to now (2020): It turned out to be a very good choice for Pixar to focus on creating animations again.

In 1995 Disney was very conservative and certainly not very convinced that computer animations would be the future. They preferred to stick to physically drawn animations. But Pixar persisted and meanwhile the roles have turned quite a bit over time and Disney has been digitized. Since 2006, Disney's animation division has been part of Pixar Animation Studios and is headed by Ed Catmull. This course will certainly have to do with the success of Toy Story and the insight it gave Disney.

Back to 1995 again.

Direct x

1995: DirectX

Despite the fact that Microsoft was one of the participating companies of the OpenGL Architecture Review Board, the company was now developing a major competitor for OpenGL itself: DirectX.

DirectX is a number of libraries (Direct3D, DirectInput and DirectSound) to improve games and graphics with better drivers and hardware acceleration on the Windows platform. The first version was launched on September 30, 1995 and up to the time of writing (2020) DirectX is still being developed and used on Windows.

A temporary six-year step forward: On November 15, 2001, Microsoft launched the DirectX Box, or Xbox, which, as the name implies, is based entirely on DirectX. With this, Microsoft also provided a direct competitor to Sony's PlayStation and Nintendo that is still active and relevant today (2020).

Despite the fact that DirectX was already released in 1995, Microsoft didn't leave the OpenGL Architecture Review Board until 2003.

Back to 1996 again.


1996: The birth of CSS

Computers kept getting better and the growing home market made the market increasingly massive. In the meantime, the internet was on the rise and systems became more and more graphical. The demand for more graphical websites was therefore growing. Until then, however, every browser had its own style sheet. There was no standard yet. So there were a lot of differences between browsers and a separate style sheet had to be used for each internet browser when building a website.

That is why the W3C standardization organization was set up around 1995 to establish web standards. They immediately took on the task, after having looked at a number of proposals, to establish a standard style sheet specification for use in all browsers. On December 1, 1996, they released CSS recommendation version 1 where CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheet.

Although the CSS specification was already there in 1996, it took until 2000 before there was a browser that actually fully supported this recommendation! This browser was Internet Explorer 5.0 for the Mac. Which by the way was the last version of IE that was made for the Mac.

Internet Explorer was made by Microsoft, so a version for major competitor Apple Macintosh was not an obvious choice. However, Microsoft launched a free downloadable version 2.0 for the Mac as early as January 23, 1996, and shipped it up to version 5 in 2003 for the Mac.

In 1997, things went very badly for Apple financially and Microsoft helped the company financially with an investment in exchange to, among other things, supply their Internet Explorer as the default browser with the Mac. Steve Jobs' presentation to present this deal can still be found on YouTube and the moment IE was introduced as the default browser for the Mac, there was also a lot of booing from the audience.

Watch a video copy of the presentation here on YouTube. From 2'21" you can see and hear the angry reaction of visitors to the arrival of IE as the default browser on the Mac.

And then we go back to 1996.

FutureSplash Animator

1996: FutureSplash Animator

Internet developments now followed faster and faster. In 1993, Charlie Jackson, Jonathan Gay and Michelle Welsh founded FutureWave Software in San Diego to create graphics software for digital pen drawing on the PenPoint operating system. The vector program SmartSketch was the first result in 1994.

Jonathan Gay wanted to create an editor to create graphical web pages. But the internet was not yet graphical and still very primitive and JavaScript and CSS hardly existed. So, in 1995, they came up with FutureSplash Animator, a graphics editor that could create animated vector graphics. And with a FutureSplash Player plug-in that ran in browsers in order to play a vector animation via the internet. This was unique, because suddenly there were graphical possibilities and ways to animate for the internet. The plug-in was used by Microsoft and Disney, among others, and thus started to get a name.


1996: Flash

That same year, in December 1996, Macromedia, the company that already owned the Director software after acquiring MacroMind, also acquired FutureWave. Macromedia renamed the FutureSplash software to Macromedia Flash v1.0. And for that name change, a creative mind had clearly set to work, because the name Flash is an abbreviation of Future and Splash.

With this move Macromedia now owned the two main players in creating interactions for internet and CD-Roms. And both competing products that provided interactive animations for the browser; Shockwave Player and Flash Player were maintained and developed side by side by Macromedia.

Ending with yet another temporary leap in time: Macromedia Director 8.1, released in 2001 and creating content for the Shockwave Player, also started to address the video industry. The package got important 3D features such as 3D text, toon shading, physics etc. and many important 3D packages adapted themselves to also export to Shockwave Player. Flash didn't have 3D at the time. Still, in the early 2000s, Shockwave began to lose popularity, as many professionals preferred to work with Flash instead.

And there was Adobe again. In 2005 they took over Macromedia with all their products. We saw earlier that Adobe didn't invent Photoshop nor After Effects themselves; this year they also got hold of Flash and Director/Shockwave, which were renamed to Adobe Flash and Adobe Director/Shockwave. But also Dreamweaver, which was now called Adobe Dreamweaver, and Authorware. Adobe continued to release new versions of both Director/Shockwave and Flash for a long time.

Eventually Flash was also provided with scripting capabilities with ActionScript (based on ECMAScript) and 3D capabilities were added to Flash. This made Director/Shockwave increasingly obsolete. We will see how things went on with Flash in the next part.

When we just saw that Aldus Freehand, the competitor of Adobe Illustrator, had not transferred as a product to Adobe when they took over Aldus, but to Macromedia, after this Adobe's takeover of Macromedia in 2005 it ended up in the hands of Adobe nevertheless. Adobe officially dropped Freehand within a year and users had to switch to Adobe Illustrator.

In the next part, we'll jump back to where we left off in 1996.


And so far for part five of this series. In which we mainly saw how important graphics software packages got a foothold and became standards and how Pixar set the tone in the CGI world of cinemas. But also the arrival of concepts such as 'multimedia' and the ability to create interactives for CD-Roms and the internet via Director/Shockwave and Flash. JavaScript and CSS were still in their infancy, but would soon start catching up. And Windows 3 with multimedia extensions, the CD-Rom and later DirectX ensured that also for the large group of PC users' interactions, audio and 2D and 3D graphics were within reach and quickly improved. And which would eventually lead to important standards that we still use today.

In the next and last part we will pick up where we left off, so we will start in 1996. That too will be a well-filled part in which we'll see that the focus of software was increasingly shifted from operating system-dependent software to internet software that therefore runs in the browser. In particular, we'll see the emergence of important players on the Internet who have left an important mark in the graphics and interactive field. And have paved the way for high-quality interactives and animations on the web that eventually run well even on mobile devices and at high frame rates.

I hope you find this as interesting as I do and I look forward to seeing you in the last part!

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About me

Maarten de Haas

Sr. Front End Engineer / Designer / Creative Consultant Wigglepixel
Maarten de Haas

With over 21 years of experience as a professional I am fulltime passionately committed to designing and developing Interactive Maps and Christmas Cards for Websites and Touch Screens for companies.

Previously I've been graphically, creatively and technically responsible for graphics and sport- and game software for many famous television productions in The Netherlands and abroad for more than 13 years.

I know the graphical and technical capabilities in 2D and 3D, as well as the hiccups of different browsers and optimizations in order to get the best possible online performance.

I make sure your project both graphically and technically produces the best results, so you don't need to worry about that.

Discuss your new project?

Contact Wigglepixel to schedule an intake interview or read more about Wigglepixel expertises and/or the work method first. And we might soon raise a toast on the success of your project!

Impress and Tell it with Interactives for Websites and Touch Screens

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