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Thread: Rationale for 16-bit browsers lacking PNG support

  1. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by xjas View Post
    I don't remember PNG being a common format back in the days when these browsers were relevant. It existed, but not many editing tools saved in it, and it just wasn't used very much. Losslessly storing 24-bit color wasn't relevant for 99% of Windows 3.1 users.
    I think this is the most likely explanation. I don't recall PNGs being particularly common until the early 2000s, well after 3.1 was no longer mainstream (and they didn't start to become ubiquitous until closer to 2008 or so, after even IE had mostly functional support for them.)
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  2. #12
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    It's the history of GIF that's the backdrop of the reason for PNG (which was developed ca. 1995) as an open, unencumbered alternative. It wasn't the format or structure of the GIF image per se, it was the use by the CompuServe developers to incorporate LZW (Lempel-Ziv Welch) compression into the format--a patent for that was held by Unisys. LZW was initially proposed as a method for hardware compression (I've got the IEEE Computer rag where it was described). The CIS team didn't realize that it was a patented algorithm (neither did a lot of people) for software compression.

    Unisys sued CIS and hammered out a licensing agreement with CIS where CIS as the sole licensee attempted to take on ensuring that all application of the compressed GIF algorithm was universally observed. This soured a lot of people and so the PNG format as an open, non-proprietary format was introduced as a replacement circa 1995. Others simply dropped the LZW compression and distributed uncompressed GIFs. Unisys offered a license for LZW compression on GIFs for a one-time payment of $5000, which resulted in very, very bad publicity for them. I remember the "Burn all GIFs" reaction. The Unisys patent expired in 2003.

    PNG never really caught on during the 90s, which is why you don't see it on many 16-bit browsers. After 2003, of course, the subject was moot.

  3. #13

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    Quote Originally Posted by retro-pc_user View Post
    I remember back in the Internet Explorer days, Microsoft put in the about Internet Explorer window saying they used the NCSA Mosaic browser coding to produce the web browser.
    That was via Spyglass, and persisted until IE7: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spyglass,_Inc.
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  4. #14

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    Thanks for the responses so far.

    Quote Originally Posted by SomeGuy View Post
    It could have just been as simple as a 32-bit code library that they couldn't be arsed to port to, what they saw at the time, was a dead-end architecture.
    Quote Originally Posted by krebizfan View Post
    The reference libraries which Netscape used were 32-bit.
    I had a feeling that at least for Netscape, the reasoning was going to be something like this. (Anyone want to dig through their 1998 source code release to confirm for sure? ) PNG support surfaced in NS 4.04 in late 1997, and the decision to drop 16-bit versions from NS 4.5 forward might have already been made by then.

    Yet a year earlier, Netscape pulled out the stops to get Java (which is intrinsically 32-bit) working on Windows 3.1.

    Quote Originally Posted by commodorejohn View Post
    I think this is the most likely explanation. I don't recall PNGs being particularly common until the early 2000s, well after 3.1 was no longer mainstream (and they didn't start to become ubiquitous until closer to 2008 or so, after even IE had mostly functional support for them.)
    I was inclined to be an early advocate of PNGs, but the lack of 16-bit browser support dissuaded me from actually using the format for years. To me, the ability to make tightly-compressed high-colour images without dithering or degradation was the biggest point of appeal...ticking off Unisys was the cherry on top!

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