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France Ending Minitel Service 137

Posted by Soulskill
from the bits-of-history-of-bits dept.
New submitter pays-vert writes "On Saturday, France will turn off the Minitel service. A forerunner of the world wide web, Minitel provided news, online banking and, yes, porn via a chic plug'n'play terminal. The service remained massively popular for a while even after the rise of the Internet, but ultimately has lost out to technological innovation. 'About 400,000 of the machines are still in use across the country, but perhaps most affected will be Brittany, where the devices were developed, and where many farmers still depend on them. ... Internet service spread much more slowly in France than it did elsewhere in Europe or in the United States, largely because of the popularity of the Minitel, historians say. Only around the turn of the century did the Internet come to much of this soggy western region, an expanse of green that bulges out into the Atlantic Ocean. The Minitel was hugely useful to farmers. Realizing that the devices could save time and money, local agricultural organizations developed programs for farmers to, say, track pork prices, inform the authorities of animal births and deaths, or consult the results of chemical tests on milk.'"
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France Ending Minitel Service

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  • The dead past (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 28, 2012 @09:32AM (#40477749)

    Internet service spread much more slowly in France than it did elsewhere in Europe or in the United States, largely because of the popularity of the Minitel, historians say

    Now we consult historians to find out about the spread of the internet? That makes me feel old :(

    • The French should keep Minitel.

      They should limit their Three Strikes and other crazy copyright laws to Minitel and leave the Internet alone.
    • Re:The dead past (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 28, 2012 @10:57AM (#40478695)

      It's completely misleading. The Minitel was popular because there was no Internet. Then the internet was available, and it was not successful because you had to pay every minute of connection to France Telecom (monopoly, high prices) on top of the fee given to your provider.

      When I heard that local communications were free in the US, I couldn't believe it. It was really expensive in France up to the years 2000.

      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by C_amiga_fan (1960858)

        So basically government interference & protectionism of (1) their old 70s technology Minitel monopoly and then (2) the 90s/2000s-era Telecom monopoly hindered innovation and slowed the growth of web usage in France. Sounds like a prime example of whyt government should not interfere with the free market's natural processes (except basic workers' rights protections).

        • by Viol8 (599362) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @11:46AM (#40479165)

          The French government should have realised in the 1970s that the beacon of the Free World (tm) the Good Old U S of A was soon to give us grateful peasents the internet and shouldn't have bothered trying to provide an extremely useful data service 15 years ahead of its time for its citizens. Because no competition means is a Bad Thing. Unless of course its the US govn. or company then its a different matter.

          You know what, just fuck off you yankee prick.

          • shouldn't have bothered trying to provide an extremely useful data service

            Correct. Private BBSes were already on the rise in the 70s. There was no need for government action when the free market was already acting to meet customer demands.

            • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

              by Viol8 (599362)

              Unless those BBS's were willing to provide their users with a terminal or computer for FREE to access their systems then your argument doesn't have a leg to stand on. The percent of the population of france in the late 70s who had a computer barely registered.

            • You have absolutely no idea what Minitel was offering. You know how now, everyone has a www., and ads are frequently just attempts to get you to a website? Right around 1990, that's what the 3615 in the ads were - merely a way to get you to use their Minitel service.

              BBS my ass. I know what those looked like, and there was absolutely nothing in them that could compete with the Minitel services.

        • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward

          You're right. The Internet was for rich people who could afford to wait 30 seconds for a picture to download. The Minitel was for everyone else (almost as you still had to pay the connection) but you didn't need to buy a computer (the Minitel was almost given for free).

        • Re:The dead past (Score:5, Insightful)

          by gallondr00nk (868673) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @12:02PM (#40479327)

          Sounds like a prime example of whyt government should not interfere with the free market's natural processes (except basic workers' rights protections).

          Because one overreaching umbrella way of doing things obviously works for practically everything. Sigh.

          I've got karma to burn, so here's a postscript. Fuck the free market. Enjoy cheering and waving the banner for the ideology which is hammering away at your living standards.

          Unleashed capitalism is just as gross and obscene as any other ideology that is mistakenly viewed as gospel.

          • Unleashed capitalism is just as gross and obscene as any other ideology that is mistakenly viewed as gospel.

            There has never been unleashed capitalism. It has always been crony capitalism, fat cats running both government and the corporations.

            If government didn't reserve the prosecution arena to itself, if ordinary citizens could bring charges against the fat cats in both governments and corporations, then you might have real capitalism.

            The problem with people who think we have ever had, or still have, laissez-faire or unleashed capitalism is that the only alternative they can imagine is more and more government.

            • by sirlark (1676276)
              No, socialists don't mistrust individuals thinking for themselves. They distrust individuals ACTING for themselves unchecked, and binding together to anonymise and abbrogate individual responsibility for collective action, usually in guise of practising business. I might trust a man with my life, but never a businessman. I like my life even when it isn't profitable for someone else, and I don't see why it has be proftiable to someone else at all.
              • I should be numbingly used to such drivel, but it still amazes me.

                You said that socialists don't mind if I think for myself ("socialists don't mistrust individuals thinking for themselves"), as long as I don't actually act on that thought ("They distrust individuals ACTING for themselves unchecked"). It's ok for me to not like broccoli, but I still have to eat it when the elite tell me it's better for me. That's real useful. Thank you for letting me use the inside of my head as long as you never see any

            • There has never been unleashed capitalism because there's no such thing. Capitalism is always "crony, fat cats". You can have them run the government, or, if there's less government, you can have them run the corporations that provide the same services (and exert the same control).

              • You could quite easily have real capitalism with freed markets. All you have to do is get the government out of the markets. Governments are by nature coercive and immortal, and the more of daily life they regulate, the more they become a target of business. It becomes more productive to be a part of government to twist it to your own ends rather than compete with better products or more efficiency.

                The less government affects business, the less use there is for businesses to try to control government. T

                • You missed my point. As soon as you get the government out of the markets, the biggest players will make it a monopoly all on their own. They'll have just as much potential to abuse you (by threatening to withhold you services for which you don't have any alternative providers), except that you have no say in how they're run, since "free" market is, at best, one dollar one vote - so whoever owns most money runs the thing, and it's definitely not going to be you. A democratic government is, for all its flaws

                  • And you, like all statists who mistrust individuals, missed my point. If individuals have the same power as governments give themselves now to sue misbehaving corporations and fat cats, corporations and fat cats will not get away with what they do now, because their buddies won't cover their ass.

                    • You say only governments can keep corporations and fat cats in line.
                    • Presumably that is because they enforce the laws.
                    • The problem is, they only enforce the laws they want, letting their buddies off the hook.
                    • One has
                    • How exactly would you have the same power to sue someone without a government, if government is the entity that creates the very power to sue - the court system, the enforcement system etc?

                      There is no law without a government. If you have any entity enforcing the law, that's the government. If you have multiple entities enforcing multiple laws within a single jurisdiction, that's anarchy, and in the end the laws that will be enforced are those belonging to entities which can buy better enforcement - in othe

                    • Are you really that willfully ignorant and unimaginative?

                      What makes you think there would be no government?

                      Read what I wrote, instead of what you want to (pretend to) read.

                      1. Get the government out of the prosecution racket, since it is not impartial and would rather protect its buddies.

                      2. Allow individuals who are affected by the corporate and fat cat misdeeds to prosecute, since they are the ones who want the errors fixed.

                      Once again I am amazed that I amazed at how much people hate individuals and mistr

                    • If the government is not impartial, why would it any better at resolving disputes that individuals would bring to courts? The courts are also part of the government, you know.

        • Re:The dead past (Score:5, Informative)

          by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @01:33PM (#40481311)

          No, web usage was slower to pick up in France because a lot of the services that the Internet offered were already on Minitel, and, at least in the early betters, much better on Minitel. Want to find movie or theater times? Minitel had it, Internet didn't. Wanted to have some hot times with some 18-year old who really was a 45 year old man out in the middle of nowhere? Minitel had it, Internet didn't. Wanted to play games that were actually better than what Farmville offers now? Minitel had it.

          The Internet had a hard time in France because the existing system was actually better. Starting mid- to late-nineties, all of that changed, of course. But to argue that government interference prevented the better technology from taking off is ass-backwards: government interference created the better technology. Minitel only was overtaken once the network effect, technological advances and yes, the free market, provided better alternatives.

          RIP Minitel, it was awesome. And it's games were still beyond a lot of the cruft that passes as games on Facebook.

        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Wasn't the "internet" mostly developed by government funded institutions (military, research institutions....)? Makes me wonder....

        • by Darinbob (1142669)

          Competing products either did not exist or were extremely limited in scope. By having a huge number of customers Minitel could offer stuff that we did not see elsewhere until mid 90s. It did not stifle technology, instead it was at the forefront. Yes it stagnaged later on but it was not necessarily because of government interference, but more likely the private companies that adminstered it were slow to adapt.

        • Connectivity where you had to pay high minute rates was not unique to Minitel. The BBS world worked that way. Still, people migrated off it to the internet in short order - why didn't they for minitel?

          I'm no expert on it, but my guess is that Minitel must have provided some popular and hard to replace services - perhaps services dependent on a critical mass of users. The BBS world didn't really have a critical mass of users, and there was very little "official" presence in it, much like ham radio.

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        It was popular because it was subsidized and free to the users. It was not necessarily new and unique in comparison to other services that were available in some countries; dial up BBS early on (ugly systems with brutal dictator admins), Compuserve very soon was up and coming same time as Minitel was growing, and in other countries there were similar dial up systems. In comparison to Minitel those systems were very tiny (even AOL was relatively small).

        But some big differences with Minitel. Because it was

  • by rbrausse (1319883) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @09:35AM (#40477777)

    we need historians to get informations about an only 30 year old technology?

    not a good sign for human knowledge, 30 years are within this generation, not some long forgotten aeon...

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      We need historians to keep track of certain causes and effects of that 30 year old technology. It's really not something that your average network engineer is good at.

    • by JustOK (667959) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @09:41AM (#40477835) Journal

      What? You want a whale biologist?

    • by ColdWetDog (752185) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @09:42AM (#40477839) Homepage

      What would you call them? Journalists? Perhaps - there certainly are journalists that write about things several decades ago. But that sort of time frame IS history. It is long enough ago that one has time to gather information about it from many times and try to synthesize something resembling 'the truth'. It is a long enough time that many people forget both the event and the lesson.

      How many people on Slashdot were around during Minitel's heyday? Perhaps half of us? How many people on Slashdot are hearing about Minitel for the first time in this article?

      Yeah it's history and now please, off my lawn.

      • by rbrausse (1319883)

        What would you call them? Journalists?

        maybe you're right, it's mostly resentment on my part.

        "historians say" is such a hollow phrase, in an Ideal World(tm) the media would be a little bit more accurate...

        • in an Ideal World(tm) the media would be a little bit more accurate...

          Yep. Although these days, the words 'accuracy' and 'media' should be in the same sentence only if discussing computer hardware.

        • by tadas (34825)

          ..."historians say" is such a hollow phrase ...

          It reminds me of Weekly World News' "stunned scientists say" (and the scientists were always stunned).

      • by Darfeld (1147131)

        I knew the minitel when it was still mainstream! (gosh, what am I now? some kind of reverse hipster? )

        It used to be fun to type random stuff on the black screen with the keyboard while offline, but it kind of gets old pretty quickly, I tell you. Other than that it a handy to find postal address and phone numbers... I wasn't old enough for the hotter stuff. The biggest downer was it was pay per minute. Then internet came, like fifteen years ago, with the fancy html and stuff, plus you could do the same thing

      • by Cimexus (1355033)

        I'm Australian, and never stepped foot in France but I'd definitely heard of Minitel. Hell, as I recall, there were parts of my high school French text book that discussed it. It was something the French were very proud of back in the 80s and 90s, and rightly so, as it was massively popular before the WWW was just a twinkle in someone's eye...

      • Me! Me! I was there! (Score:4, Informative)

        by spaceyhackerlady (462530) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @12:24PM (#40479597)

        How many people on Slashdot were around during Minitel's heyday? Perhaps half of us? How many people on Slashdot are hearing about Minitel for the first time in this article?

        I was very much around, and followed Minitel's development with interest. I've used Minitel on visits to France. It filled a need. It worked.

        Lots of people at the time thought teletext was the way to go. In a sense it was, in the days when 1200 baud was considered a fast modem. Remember Prestel [wikipedia.org] (U.K.)? Remember all the hype about Telidon [wikipedia.org] (Canada)? And how little we have to show for it?

        At one time all the ads in French magazines and stuff quoted Minitel codes, almost invariably 3615. Now they all have URLs.

        ...laura

    • by Bigby (659157)

      What else is a historian going to do?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      we need historians to get informations about an only 30 year old technology?

      not a good sign for human knowledge, 30 years are within this generation, not some long forgotten aeon...

      When I studied history in school in the 1980s, World War 2 was part of the history ciriculum. At that point in time it was only 40 years earlier, and very much considered a topic for historians.

    • by crazyjj (2598719) *

      Journalists tend to toss the word "historian" around rather loosely. It can mean anything from "Some local-yokel kook who calls himself a historian" to a university-affiliated Ph.D. in history with serious academic credentials.

      • by evilandi (2800)

        >Journalists tend to toss the word "historian" around rather
        >loosely. It can mean anything from "Some local-yokel
        >kook who calls himself a historian" to a university-
        >affiliated Ph.D. in history with serious academic credentials. ...but rarely ever anyone with an actual proper job.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      we need historians to get informations about an only 30 year old technology?

      It's nothing new. From the introduction to Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920's [virginia.edu] by historian Frederick Lewis Allen

      Obviously the writing of a history so soon after the event has involved breaking much new ground...

      Further research will undoubtedly disclose errors and deficiencies in the book, and the passage of time will reveal the shortsightedness of many of my judgments and interpretations. A contemporary history is bo

  • by retroworks (652802) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @09:45AM (#40477863) Homepage Journal
    What's most interesting about Minitel is not the "historical" origins 30 years ago, but the way the French Government kept subsidizing it up until 2012. It was already presque obsolete when AOL was on the rise, but the tax dollars just kept it going. Government isn't that bad at developing something new (NASA, nuclear power), but it does a pretty bad job of management if it decides to stay "in the business".
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 28, 2012 @09:50AM (#40477901)

      The fact that it was working just fine and the population liked and used it will be ignored for the brief moment that your comment is read.

      • by hey_popey (1285712) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @10:03AM (#40478051)

        The fact that it was working just fine and the population liked and used it will be ignored for the brief moment that your comment is read.

        In that case, the fact that it was a horribly ugly and slow even compared to 56k Internet (compare it to an old black-and-white teletext) should also be ignored. I forgot to mention the outrageous charges, even to connect to public administration services; I remember myself waiting for some nation-wide exam results to display, the connection timer was the real source of stress, not the results!

        • by Anonymous Coward

          In that case, the fact that it was a horribly ugly and slow even compared to 56k Internet (compare it to an old black-and-white teletext) should also be ignored.

          Minitel long predates 56kbps dialup internet. In fact, Minitel predates 1200 bps dialup internet.

          Minitel was designed to provide useful information using the best technology available at the time It did so very well and at a reasonable cost.

          However, technology has progressed to the point where Minitel is no longer relevant.

      • Yes Minitel was liked. Just as I like my ancient Commodore 64. And my amish neighbors like horse-drawn carriages. That doesn't mean the government should be wasting taxpayer dollars building obsolete C64s and carriages. Turn-over the job to the free market to make the carriages.

        • by Darinbob (1142669)

          But Minitel would not have existed without the government help, the free market was not creating these services at that time. The similar products to Minitel came somewhat later and did not reach the same size as Minitel, and nothing came close to the same per-capita usage until the late 90s.

          The government is good at creating new stuff especially if an infrastructure is needed to make it work but bad at maintaining it later (as the ancestor posts states). But businesses in contrast are very often bad at c

          • The last bit is important. If the French government had opened the system, instead of (somewhat corruptly) handing it over to a private monopoly, the world could have looked quite different.

    • But there is nothing wrong with keeping a good service up and running. The fact the article also attributes Minitel to be a working techology allowing a more free marked, means that its the kind of thing a goverment should subsidize. The second issue that there is no reason to lay down a service just because it got more modern competitors, because information fetching via one dedicated portal is effective now as back in 1990s. If it works, nothing is wrong with it.
      Also, why did AOL and the Internet make it

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @10:03AM (#40478057) Journal
      While it isn't a terribly big surprise that, in France, the subsidization happened to be a directly state matter, one should really keep in mind the broader context:

      Minitel was, to no small degree, integrated into the telco infrastructure of the day(not just 'placed on top of it, because it has to be on top of something', like the ad-hoc BBSes or the eventual internet. And, unfortunately, telco(especially, but not exclusively, wireline telco) is one of the worst industries in the contemporary world when it comes to severely dubious state support. Whether it be the overtly state-owned and schlerotic monopoly telco companies, or the 'regulated'(ha, ha, ha) oligopoly-with-regionally-monopolistic-characteristics that passes for a 'free market' in telecommunications services, telcos worldwide historically(and frequently to the present day) are up to their bloody eyeballs in the worst sorts of state tie-ins, whether honestly labelled as such or not.

      Had some of the 'future of the telephone' stuff that Bell was always making videos about in the 60's ever actually been executed, it likely would have been in exactly the same place.

      Really, that's the thing that makes the internet more interesting: Not because it developed in a situation of more enlightened telcom policy(it basically didn't); but because Ma Bell was too caught up in her own line-switched rentseeking circlejerk to notice it before it had grown substantially...
      • Ma Bell noticed the internet.
        She tried to make me pay an extra fee for connecting a 1k modem to my line. I just pretended I wasn't using one. "Modem? What modem?" though I'm sure they noticed it was turned on 20+ hours a day (taking full advantage of that unlimited calling & downloading). I figured I was already paying ~$15 a month for the national service called GEOS... I'm not paying any more on top of that.

        • Sorry, I should have been a touch more specific: US telcos have certainly done their level best to extract rents from everybody who touches their lines, even when that touching has already been paid for once at agreed rates(everything from your modem fee, to the period of trying to make home router connection-sharing an extra-cost option, to the persistent demands that internet companies should pay for access to "their consumers"); but they've never really had any luck, and frequently not much interest, in
    • by bazorg (911295)

      They just would not surrender!

    • by Coeurderoy (717228) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @10:29AM (#40478347)

      What makes you think that the french government keeped subsidizing it, it was a cash cow for the government when france telecom was still a mostly "public" company, the high revenue of 3615 (mostly "hot stuff") was bringing billions to the government.

      I'm sure that Bercy (the french Finance Ministery) are still having wet dreams about milking as much from the internet..

      They are closing it because only the "cheapest" service are still around.
      The way it worked is that you could (as a service provider) choose :
      Service Operators pays all (only rare very specialized services worked that way) (nbr 3613)
      Service Operators pays nothing, the user pay little (most "public services", and most of what survives till the end of this week) (nbr 3614)
      Service Operators get a little, the user pays more (nbr 3615)
      Service Operators get a lot, the user pays a lot (nbr 3617)
      Most services where 3615, but now most services ar 3613, and with the number of terminals going from 20 Millions*Lots of hours to 400 K * few hours it probably only now starts to cost more maintaining the service than it generates revenues.

  • Ob (Score:5, Funny)

    by Hognoxious (631665) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @09:45AM (#40477867) Homepage Journal

    Man outside castle: Hey, you there! Do you think your lord would like an internet?

    Man on battlements: Ah don't think he'll be interested. See, he's already got one. [whispers] Ah told zem we got one already [sniggers]

    MOC: Can we see it?

    MOB: No. [whispers to man next to him] Fetchez la vache.

    MOC: RUN AWAY!!!!!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      More like...

      Man outside castle: Hey, you there! Do you think your lord would like an internet? It has porn!

      Man on battlements: Oh, but of course!!! Baissez le pont-levis! Maintenant! Maintenant!!!

  • by obarthelemy (160321) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @09:49AM (#40477897)

    was easy billing of services: depending on a service's call number, several billing levels were available (from free to more than $10/min), and the user was aware of how much each number cost. That's the micropayment thingy the Internet never got right. I remember having to beg to Minitel guys to subsidize me when I was doing Web stuff for a TV station ^^

    • Not to worry, between the ITMS and your cell carrier, anything and everything should be packaged, sorted, and monetized once again...
    • My internet is charged directly to the phone bill. If I "rent" a movie from my ISP it is also charged to my phone bill. That sounds just as simple as your Minitel description.

      As for the wider web, amazon and other services charge me 49 cents per short story downloaded to my kindle/PC. Or I can subscribe for $12 to my favorite magazine. Or use paypal to pay the 1 cent game I just bought off ebay (plus ship/handling).

      • by obarthelemy (160321) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @12:26PM (#40479631)

        Not quite the same. The minitel was.. wait for it... network neutral. Any provider (not just your ISP) could use it to deliver and bill for services. Plus billing was handled by the network operator (France Telecom at the time) which saved having to setup up credit-card/paypal/account billing, though you could still do that and go for free connection+login. It allowed micropayments (well, very low time rate), which are still an issue on the Web.

      • by Darinbob (1142669)

        I pay the same amount each month to my ISP if I read only text email one month or if I download a lot of movies the next month. Almost no one in the US is being charged by usage. Though we are charged by the endpoint for business transaction, except that these aren't microtransactions (ie, we can't read just five pages of NY Times and pay less than if we read the whole thing online).

  • My French connections used Minitel primarily as a dating service. One of my dad's friends had three girlfriends through his Minitel dating "site". The profiles were rather dedicated since these girlfriends all shared same previous boyfriends. Enfin, I will not go into detail - yes, French tend to go into those details already at the apéritif.
    • by mekkab (133181)
      the 3615 stuff is absolutely fascinating; sort of like how p0rn blazed a trail for the home video systems of the 80's (VHS, et. al.).
  • by ReallyEvilCanine (991886) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @10:02AM (#40478041) Homepage

    Until some time around 1997, exploring simple travel plans, booking and paying for them was a fucking nightmare for the rest of the world; they'd been doing it for more than a decade already in France, via a system which was very fast (remember those shitty 33.6K & X2 modems?) and very convenient. Standardised. Without pop-ups.

    Germany's Post monopoly prevented this and instead buit the BTX system, designed to make profits, primarily for the Post (fmr. Telekom parent), and because phone costs were so high. getting on-line was a terribly expensive proposition in Germany until the Post monopoly was broken up.

  • Nooooooooooo! What will happen of 3515 ULLA? Disclaimer: I'm drunk.
    • Re:3515 ULLA (Score:5, Informative)

      by bourdux (1609219) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @11:02AM (#40478735)
      OK, I've sobered up. Just for information, I was born in the 80's in France and am now a researcher computer science researcher at the other end of the world, in Japan. Minitel is what drove me into computer science as I would dream of any career that would let me touch a keyboard at that tine. ind you, secretaries were still using typewriters in France at that time. 3515 ULLA was the equivalent of adultfriendfinder at that time and had paper ads all over countryside roads, usually on electrical installations such as transformers. Minitel might not have been the best of models, but it was in line with the current French policy at that time, which tried to be independent of USA at any cost. We had even our own Micro-computer models made by Thompon (a.k.a Technicolor). Even if unpractical overall, Minitel prepared the French population for the use of the Internet afterwards, making France one of the most active population on the Internet afterwards. So, R.I.P Minitel, we value what you brought to our nation. You will always have a place in our hearts.
  • So the effort hrere will be convincing farmers that an antiquated yet fairly reliable system that runs on proprietary hardware should be replaced by a totally reliable system that runs on open software and any hardware and will be continually upgraded for the forseeable future. Yeah, good luck with that.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    US Videotel, based in Texas, tried it out in Houston and DFW. I worked for them for a while and it was actually pretty useful to get people who couldn't afford a computer "online". It was just a dumb b/w terminal with ANSI graphics and text services, but for many of us it was pretty nifty. The main competition at the time were Delphi and CompuServe which required a (>$100's) computer. The Mini-tel could be had for a nominal monthly fee.

  • by CharmElCheikh (1140197) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @11:05AM (#40478765)
    "many farmers still depend on them. ... Internet service spread much more slowly in France than it did elsewhere in Europe or in the United States, largely because of the popularity of the Minitel, historians say. Only around the turn of the century did the Internet come to much of this soggy western region"

    Seriously? Farmers depend on Minitel? I never saw that in my "soggy wester region", Normandy. Also, care to give citations for what I bolded out? Hell in the US there are still vast portions of the country very, very badly covered by high speed internet access or not at all which isn't true in France. Who are these "historians"?

    Was this article written by a Texan rancher who still strikes out "French fries" on restaurant menus to write "Liberty fries"?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by bourdux (1609219)
      Am from Normandy too and would have modded you up if I didn't contribute to the topic myself. P'tet ben que les fermiers y zen avaient ren a fout des minitels.
  • Sorry Minitel - I never knew you. But say hello to some friends of mine: BBS, Gopher, Usenet, and Telnet. All cool things at the time, all superceded by bigger and better. But at the time they were like magic.

  • I was born in Western France and I remember that Minitels started to die when modems became more common in France. Many people bought modems to have access to fax functions, as buying a fax machine was damn expensive at that time. In France, modems usually came bundled with minitel emulators, inciting buyers to not buy extra monthly cost for minitel rent to France Telecom. I remember making my scholarship applications for university on the Minitel for a couple of years until they had a decent Internet webs
  • by Herve5 (879674) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @11:31AM (#40479013)

    One forgotten thing in these comments (or did I skip?) is, in an era just without internet, spending lots of time on semiporn chatting on Minitels appears to have raised so much money than it turned these service owners into billionnaires.

    The current owner of Free, which is I believe the largest french ISP after the ex-state monopoly France telecom, started as a minitel porn service supplier. Then he just used his millions to switch to ISP.

    Many french themselves have forgotten this, and here Free has quite a good aura today...

    So, while I seriously doubt Minitel service was costing much to the state, it definitely raised huge amounts of silly guys' money into sex chat providers pockets.

    These, are our present internet landlords here.
    And there are people around that still think theyr work will better the country.

  • For some reason, I was thinking Minitel was the same as Teletext [wikipedia.org]. It seems like the last vesteges of it are being phased out now, but it was an interesting service and quite common in some countries.

  • by evilandi (2800) <andrew@aoakley.com> on Thursday June 28, 2012 @12:04PM (#40479335) Homepage

    OP: "perhaps most affected will be Brittany, where the devices were developed, and where many farmers still depend on them."

    Sorry, but that is what we Europeans call "bollocks". I was in Brittany two weeks ago, in a campsite in the middle of nowhere, and it was saturated in 3G/HSDPA mobile broadband. I drove all round the place, 3G everywhere. Decent stuff, too, was browsing BBC News at snappy speeds, even video worked fine.

    Campsite I stayed in had Wifi on about a 4 meg connection, probably ADSL, middle of nowhere. Restaurants and cafes in villages and market towns, ditto. The "Domain de Kerlan" campsite I used last year even had wi-fi to *every* *single* *plot*. So stop this "farmers still depend on dumb terminals with 1.2 kilobit modems" bullshit.

    France is not very big, only twice the size of the UK. It's not like the USA where there are thousands of miles of empty rural plains. It was dead easy to wire up the whole country for ADSL. That happened a decade ago. The furthest you'll ever get from a city of at least 50,000 people is about twenty-five miles, and I can't think of *any* part of France that is more than five miles from a village of at least 2,000 people.

    What's more, French farmers are usually part of a local co-operative who bulk-buy engineering and technology gear at discounted rates (for example, they tend to club together to buy tractors or combine harvesters). I sincerely doubt there is any large farm that wants ADSL, or at least ISDN, that can't get it; French farmers are fscking *minted*.

    "Many farmers still depend on Minitel". My arse.

    • by operagost (62405)
      Just because there's wireless broadband available doesn't mean everyone is using it. Did you actually ask any farmers, or just assume they all had smartphones?
    • by heson (915298)

      "Many farmers still depend on Minitel". My arse.

      Of course they do depend on minitel, it is all they know, and they had no urgent need to switch until now.

      I depend on my apartment, it is a crappy one in a (relatively for the region) bad neighborhood but moving involves lots of work and I can not be bothered.

      • by evilandi (2800)

        > can not be bothered.

        This is closer to the truth. The French do tend to expect their government to do everything for them, and I'm speaking from the perspective of a Brit who gets free healthcare and subsidised childcare from my government. It will actually take an action like this, turning off the system, to get some of those people to switch.

        They'll depend on it, right up to the day after it's switched off and they suddenly have an incentive to go and spend 300 euros on a router and a basic PC. Given

  • I loved the time I spent on BBS's. One of the reasons is that BBS's that I visited had a message board which allowed you to communicate with other fellow geeks around you. Sure it wasn't as big and complete as Minitel but there was what I needed so that was fine (online games like L.O.R.D, message board with fidonet, files and more)
  • Minitel was a success for many reasons

    1) there was no alternative
    2) the minitel terminal was free
    3) lot of public services degree results, school inscriptions, white pages...
    4) lot of company services where you pay by minute ( you pay on telephone bill )

    Today's many companies would love to be able to have a minitel business model for their websites. Imagine an internet where you control what people do/read and you can make them pay for :you listen to music on somerandomglog.com you need to pay x.xx

  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @01:05PM (#40480569) Homepage

    It's not well known, but Minitel, the French system, was deployed in the US. Local dial-up ports were available in most US cities. The system was run by Telecom France, and gave access to both lightly used US services and the full network in France. I used to have an account on it. There was no extra charge for communicating across the Atlantic, so the service was useful to anyone who had people to talk to in France.

    Minitel had a delightful culture in some ways. People wrote poetry on the dating services.

  • Although a landline could go as high as 56 kbits, you usually got half of that. This was OK for text-rich pages. But totally inadequate for the graphics and video rich web of today.
  • by eulernet (1132389) on Thursday June 28, 2012 @02:11PM (#40482349)

    It was also a wonderful tool to meet people.

    I met my wife on the Minitel 17 years ago.

    Since there was a double pricing (3614 was cheap, and 3615 was expensive), men had access to the 3615 part of meeting sites, while women had access to the 3614 part.

  • by johnw (3725)
    Minitel was simply a copy of Prestel, but with one addition which gave it staying power - French telecoms decided to use it to completely replace the telephone directory and directory enquiries, and issued a standard terminal to just about everyone. This is what gave it the market penetration which made it popular.

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