I was an HTML Coder in the Nineties

A Vignette from the Past

In the early 90s, the Web was not a commercial war zone that you find it as today. It was a truly magical, mysterious realm, and the wild west at the same time. You might think these were the dark days of the Web, but nay. They were the brightest of days on Earth. Even then, in the Web's infancy, there were many lifetimes worth of content to peruse. There was a tremendous amount of content hosted on academic servers and government sites, e.g. nasa.gov.

Content? Yes. Standards? Not much. UX? What, did you say something?

I say this with absolute authority, as I sat there learning basic HTML in early 1994, NOT pondering the future ramifications of viewing government-affiliated website content. Not thinking about cloud-storage. Not thinking about templates, Java Applets, or even JavaScript for that matter.

I was thinking, "No more 6 a.m. press-checks!"

HTML was the gateway that made that happen.

Another big plus of Old Web: There were no banner ads. There were a handful of basic browsers. I paid $60 USD for a copy of Netscape GOLD Edition. It came in a box on 4 or 5 HD floppy discs.

As for a style guide, what style guide? Your choice was Times Roman. That was basically it. The sans serif fonts looked bad. I always liked Courier, myself. So bossy and dashing. If you were a designer back then (you were probably a graphic designer) or a production dog, like me. We all came from print. We hated the lack of control on the web. For a time, there was a movement afoot to publish all Web pages in PDF format, so one could turn everything into the ultimate two-page spread using whatever design elements one desired. Ah yes, the PDF-Net. It would have been great. Of course, that revolt failed immediately. Designers would not be put in control of the look of the Web. The revenge of the nerds was taking place in earnest again, and THEY would control how things looked. If you were a designer you'd at least need to learn how to code a page. Some of use got handy with the whole Webmaster thing. The original FULL STACK dev, long before that term became fashionable (yet even now that term is waning). I suppose yesterday's Webmaster is today's dying full stack dev.

Standards. Ha! No one knew anything!

We had a Global Village Teleport 1200 baud modem and were eager for the 2400 to come out. This device sat next to a fax machine. It sat next to a Mr. Coffee. We worked in the same building as Starbucks headquarters in the SODO neighborhood of Seattle. And we drank Mr. Coffee.

I wish I had photos of this stuff.

Our Macs had 4Mb of RAM. Somebody had one that had 8 Mb of RAM. "Wow!" we all said, mystified by the sheer power of this increase. You must also remember that at this point RAM chips were wired by hand.

Another thing about that modem and Internet access. For a while we ran it off our business second-line. So if some smart client dialed the backdoor number, they might just get that squelchy modem squak instead of us.

Kurt Cobain had just blown himself away.

The whole city seemed to grind to a halt that day. It was rainy. Courtney Love went to the fountain at Seattle Center and read stuff. It was broadcast over the radio. I listened, bewildered by the whole thing. This would have been a great moment to invent Friendster or Facebook or Twitter or anything like that.

I figured out enough JavaScript to build image slideshows and whatnot. This was all very novel and would come in handy for a future career as a Web dev. Nobody had ever heard of that term before, though. No one had heard of "full stack" either, but soon enough we would become that, too.

We worked way across town from Microsoft. "I'll NEVER work there!" I would declare. "Yeah. Apple  forever!" we would rant. Oh, such foolish words. This was before Apple's final crash and burn, before OSX, before Steve Jobs and Jony Ives changed everything again. Windows 95 just didn't hold a candle to Mac OS 6, let me tell you. But the world didn't care. Mick Jagger replied to Bill Gates, "$10 million!" when asked how much he wanted for Microsoft to use the tune for the Win95 launch. Ah yes, the old world would die. And us old-style designers with it. The nerds were now in full control. Time to become one of them.

So I split for Microsoft.

I got lucky. My step-dad once said, "You caught the beginning of a gigantic wave."


Before long we were doing better than ever. No more press checks! Instead, we spent money on computer books. There was a B&N just down the street from Microsoft campus where many long lunch breaks were taken perusing the computer books. This was before the online documentation was any good. Books were still king.

Soon we would be downloading music for free on Napster!

Breathtaking times.

To be continued...