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We nostalgia fans were all treated to a nineties-esque page on the various Stack Exchange sites, complete with guest books, obnoxious tiled backgrounds, Comic Sans, etc.

However, when I went to view the source code, I was expecting to see tables and frames and the other stuff web developers considered "advanced" at the time, but instead I saw the usual modern inclusion of CSS, JavaScript code, and all the rest. But then I got thinking, maybe it still might have worked to a degree, possibly in the late 1990s anyway, possibly some of the more advanced web developers had moved beyond the old tables and frames.

Could this page have worked on a browser from the 1990s, assuming a monitor with a good enough resolution, computer with enough memory, etc?

And if not, would it have been possible to create this page using whatever HTML code, etc. was available at the time? And if so, would it still work now considering a lot of features may have been deprecated / changed?

migrated from history.stackexchange.com Apr 2 at 22:18

This question came from our site for historians and history buffs.

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    Here is a real 90s website for comparison: midwinter.com/lurk – Stephen Apr 2 at 6:35
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    my impression of the source is they prioritized making it a simple change on top of regular SO that could be easily added/removed. as far as I can tell it's an injected script that makes all of the changes to the regular SO dom. I could be way off the mark though as I don't usually read SO's source – sudo rm -rf slash Apr 2 at 12:57
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    That page design was definitely missing blinking text, the nuisance of early Internet Exploder. – tofro Apr 2 at 22:21
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    @tofro The blink tag was never supported by Internet Explorer. It was a widely ridiculed invention of Netscape Navigator. – Ross Ridge Apr 2 at 23:24
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    @RossRidge Correct. If we wanted to blink text in IE, we had to do it via ActiveX control. :-) – Brad Apr 3 at 2:07
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People have actually tried this. The answer is "No".

In particular, you may notice, if you scroll all the way to the bottom, an old-timey "Best viewed in Netscape 3.0" bug. It does not in fact work at all under old installs of Netscape 3.0.

As near as I can tell, the main hang-up seems to be SSL compatibility, but likely if that issue were solved there would be other HTML/Java/JavaScript issues, as Mr. Burnap posits.

Obviously most of us, unlike the poster in the linked question, aren't running on Windows 95 with old browsers. So rather than make it work using actual period web code designed for actual period web browsers that few could appreciate, they made it work on modern web browsers, but with a 1990's look-and-feel.

As someone who was using web browsers since the NCSA Mosaic days, they did a pretty impressive job. My only big complaint is the mouse pointer fiddling they did didn't hose the pointer's responsiveness nearly enough. There are other little touches that could be added (e.g.: the blink tag), but it really does look amazingly like the real deal. 

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    And the page is responsive, which is definitely a non-90s thing. – Stephen Apr 2 at 6:34
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    The "sparks" fell, shrunk in size, and had a random horizontal component; that is way, way more work than almost any 90s website would have put into it. – Yakk Apr 2 at 13:27
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    @Stephen No, I disagree, we had responsive web pages before people made them non-responsive much later. Everything was responsive by default, and we all were building sites knowing that it had to work for 640x480 through 1024x768. It wasn't until probably around the early 2000s that people really started to screw things up with "pixel perfect" designs and other nonsense. The web is just now finally getting back to its roots. – Brad Apr 3 at 2:05
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    @Brad: In 2012 or so, I client that I had written a CRM application for about a decade earlier called me to thank me. He told me that his original intention of the call was to make the website work on his new tablet. However, after actually trying if first, all he had to do was thank me as this ugly website from years prior worked on his tablet perfectly. He was astonished. – dotancohen Apr 3 at 11:15
  • IE3 is the one true browser, of which all others are merely shadows. :-) – Bob Jarvis Apr 3 at 11:26
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No. The glitter falling off of the mouse was not possible in 90s era HTML.

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    Clarification: It was possible (and done, IIRC) to do that effect via other means (eg: Javascript), but probably not the exact HTML being used to do it here. – T.E.D. Apr 2 at 4:10
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    The implementation would have been different in the late 90s, but I'm fairly certain it was doable using JavaScript, Flash, or other technologies from back then. IIRC JS-based animations would also tend to bring browsers to a crawl and turn your PC's fan on. – Denis de Bernardy Apr 2 at 6:59
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    Definitely doable (no comment on how). The coca-cola page had 'bubbles' floating after the mouse late last century. If I could work the wayback machine ... – mcalex Apr 2 at 8:01
  • @mcalex https://web.archive.org/web/*/<whatever URL> – a CVn Apr 2 at 11:56
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    It was doable by installing a 3rd party plugin that thankfully died under the weight of abusive install bundling and spyware accusations: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comet_Cursor – Dan Neely Apr 2 at 13:30
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But then I got thinking, maybe it still might have worked to a degree, possibly in the late 1990s anyway, possibly some of the more advanced web developers had moved beyond the old tables and frames.

Not with the tools used. Keep in mind, there was no CSS back then.

Could this page have worked on a browser from the 1990s, assuming a monitor with a good enough resolution, computer with enough memory, etc?

Simply no. No (standardized) CSS, no standardized way of interaction with the backend (beyond refresh/post) and so on.

And if not, would it have been possible to create this page using whatever HTML code, etc. was available at the time?

Yes, I belive it could be made - of course it requires essentially a whole recoding. Layout wise next to all parts could have been made look like it, ofc, including the star spread and comic sans fonts (at least on some OS/browser combinations).

Now getting all interaction to work might be way more of a problem. It can be solved and might even be fun - more so as the backend had to be reworked as well.

And if so, would it still work now considering a lot of features may have been deprecated / changed?

While many features are official deprecated, browsers still support quite a lot. So far, I didn't notice any optical feature of the 'new' design that couldn't be easy done with a late 90s browser. The biggest hurdle might be the notification system.

So yeah, if I get drowned in tons of money (or migrate to some beautiful remote island - all inklusive), it would be a nice task to waste time :))

  • The notification system wouldn't have worked. It's a "server push" system, and nothing of that sort worked reliably until WebSockets showed up in 2011. Most of the other interactivity would have worked, but would have required Internet Explorer 5 and XMLHTTP (the precursor to XMLHttpRequest). – Mark Apr 3 at 2:00
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    "No CSS back then"? Really? I remember (experimental) CSS being supported in Arena, circa 1993-1994, and CSS 1.0 was published in 1996. Wikipedia has a better memory than me, and suggests that Arena didn't support any CSS until 1996, but perhaps that's referring to standard CSS rather than the experiments that preceded it. In any case, it was certainly prior to the late-1990s era that the Time Machine purports to represent. – Toby Speight Apr 3 at 7:41
  • @TobySpeight You're right, it's about standardized CSS - likewise standardized DOM for JS. – Raffzahn Apr 3 at 9:30
  • @Mark With frames and refresh it could have made working quite early on - of course only with a changed backend as mentioned. – Raffzahn Apr 3 at 9:31
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    @JanusBahsJacquet Sure, some CSS. AFAIR it wasn't until 2000 or thereafter for a somewhat complete CSS implementation to apear (IE5). Before that neither browser implemented CSS in full - and more important every browser implemented its own view on various elements which often resulted in pages looking worse with CSS than without. Not to mention that Netscape had their own stylesheet variation: JSSS. It wasn't until the mid-noughties that CSS started to work cross browser - still only with careful browser selection and work arounds. It was a long and windy way we walked ... – Raffzahn Apr 3 at 10:43
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No, not possible.

So my question is, could this page have worked on a browser from the 90s assuming a monitor with a good enough resolution, computer with enough memory, etc?

You're looking at Mosaic, and very early versions of Mozilla and the Internet Exploi... Explorer. Those browsers cannot handle modern CSS.

Computer technology has changed considerably. What was a huge internal memory back then is not even sufficient to meet the lowest acceptable requirements today. I have an Asus EEE 700 PC (just for fun). That's a lot more advanced than what you are referring to. That little Asus has now difficulty running smaller versions of Ubuntu on it.

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    Computer technology has changed considerably. Indeed, and for the worse. – Bregalad Apr 2 at 12:04
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    The computer technology hasn't changed for the worse, but it has changed computer programmers and computer education for the worse. If you really want to know if somebody understands ideas about time and memory complexity, make them write some non-trivial software (e.g. a text editor or a calculator) that runs in 1Mb memory with a CPU clock speed of 10 MHz! – alephzero Apr 2 at 12:56
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    I think it's a bit much to say that computer programmers have changed for the worse. I'd say that what's important in computer programming has changed for the better. Programmers today are more free to worry about the 'big picture'. Yes, you lose some efficiencies when you hand off the details to compilers, but there are very few cases where those efficiencies matter enough to warrant the time and effort. When they do matter, you can always call on an expert. Not all programmers need to know how to write assembly, just like how not all mechanics need to know how to fix a space shuttle. – Josh Eller Apr 2 at 13:29
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    @JoshEller Too soon, man... too soon! There are no mechanics that need to know how to fix the space shuttle. – T.J.L. Apr 2 at 13:56
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    @T.J.L. Maybe there was a bit of the rubber-band effect and JoshEller overshot the 2020's on the back from the 1990's. – Gypsy Spellweaver Apr 3 at 2:38

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