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

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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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  • Told at Least Once
  • David Blake

    What a bunch of losers.

  • James

    Didn’t WorldWideWeb already show that a graphical browser was possible?

  • Richard

    @David Blake

    You better start yourself some project of importance before bitching on others.

  • That was an interesting read. It makes you wonder how many other projects could’ve been big if the creators had a few extra dollars.

  • Laurence

    As already stated, this article is wrong. Erwise was /NOT/ the first grahical web browser. “World Wide Web” (later renamed to “Nexus”) was and it ran on NeXTSTEP machines.

  • Mr.T

    This just tell the sad story that there is no business knowledge at finland. Basically no proper seed investors or anything, even today.

  • Zico

    “..Ilta-Sanomat, a major national newspaper in Finland..”

    Ilta-Sanomat is not actually a newspaper, but “yellow press” tabloid…

  • miksuh

    From the article:

    “The campus is actually located in Espoo, a Helsinki suburb”

    Espoo is not Helsinki’s suburb. Espoo is not even part of Helsinki. Espoo is Finland’s second largest city after Helsinki. Finland’s capital city area consists of four cities: Helsinki (capital city), Espoo, Vantaa and Kauniainen.

  • Hi miksuh,

    Thanks for the note. This was a result of English-language miscommunication between author and editor. We have changed the wording to say the campus is in Espoo, only a few miles from Helsinki.

  • David Blakie

    What a bunch of losers

  • Interesting story. Some folks just have a ruff start.