The Greatest Internet Pioneers You Never Heard Of: The Story of Erwise and Four Finns Who Showed the Way to the Web Browser

3/3/09

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continue our developing it so that Netscape might have finally bought us,” he says. “Still, the big thing is, we could have reached the initial Mosaic level with relatively small extra work. We should have just finalized Erwise and published it on several platforms.”

Rantanen says he tried to get a summer job at HUT 1992 to do just that. But there was no money, even for a single summer job, to get the work done.

Besides that, the three men were already working at Tekla. They were young and thrilled to have steady jobs. (Today Kati Borgers runs a small children’s clothing company.) Erwise faded away, then and there.

“That meant an extra year for the whole development of the World Wide Web,” says Nyberg, who’s currently Tekla’s technology chief.

“Making a product out of Erwise was perhaps not executed at the best level,” Sydänmaanlakka replies with dark humor.

“But hey, we didn’t exactly end up in the gutter,” adds Nyberg. “We just went and built different important things, creating international applications and business in Tekla.”

I asked them about one last thing, which has gotten a bit confused over the years: the origin of the name “Erwise.” In Weaving the Web, Berners-Lee says that “because the department was ‘OTH’ they decided to call the browser Erwise (OTH + Erwise = ‘Otherwise’).” But while that’s pretty close, it isn’t quite right, according to the Finns.

The software course was called ohjelmatyö in Finnish (“OHT,” not “OTH,” as Berners-Lee wrote). Lemmke did not like to call the groups OHT-1, OHT-2 and so on, so he renamed them.

Lemmke’s idea was to call the browser “something else,” the three say. From there it became “otherwise,” and from there Erwise. The name also was meant to convey at least a vague reference to the Wais database system, a reference more apparent when you pronounce Erwise and Wais in a Finnish way. And it was important that Erwise could handle Wais.

“It was just totally twisted nerd humor,” Sydänmaanlakka says.

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