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Computer History Museum Wants to Preserve Minitel History 58

coondoggie writes "It's been almost a year since France Telecom shut down its once widely popular Minitel online services and historians are worried that its legacy from a preservationist point of view is being lost forever. The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA., naturally wants to collect and preserve all manner of industry historical artifacts, and Minitel is one of the central components of its 'Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing' exhibit."
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Computer History Museum Wants to Preserve Minitel History

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 09, 2013 @05:59AM (#43124719)

    This is a very elitist/snooty organization. Research very carefully if you have anything of value to "donate" to this museum. Chances are you will never have access to it again -- but rest assured an MBA will.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Instead, donate to the National Museum of Computing at Bletchley Park (, and help preserve the legacy of Alan Turing and the rest of the brilliant minds that cracked the Enigma code and helped shape digital computing as we know it today.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday March 09, 2013 @06:56AM (#43124879)

      This is true of most museums, technology or otherwise - unless your donation includes large sums of money, its simply that - a donation, not an invitation to come and 'play' with whatever you 'donated'.

      If you want to play with your artifact, keep it. If you want to see it preserved, donate it. But don't expect the curators to be your personal artifact babysitter, thats not how museum donations work.

      • But why isn't there a model for people who want to share their toys without losing access to them?

        You can't really compare most museums to the CHM because the items in most museums aren't interactive. Or at least, you can appreciate the items without necessarily "using" them.

        I wouldn't expect to have *unrestricted* access, but it would be nice if they at least gave donors certain days when they could come play with their stuff for free, provided it didn't interfere with other patrons' enjoyment.

    • Sounds about right. What's the problem?
    • by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Saturday March 09, 2013 @09:18AM (#43125179) Homepage

      I guess that's the general problem with giving stuff away; it's no longer yours.

  • by ls671 ( 1122017 ) on Saturday March 09, 2013 @06:15AM (#43124741) Homepage

    Minitel and trumpet winsock remind me of a time when the French government, Microsoft and others believed that Internet competing networks would emerge and that they should create their own. Minitel actually had a competing network for quite a while and Microsoft did not believe into the need to include a IP stack in their product.

    Who would redo the same today?

    • by PolygamousRanchKid ( 1290638 ) on Saturday March 09, 2013 @06:39AM (#43124847)

      The German Post Office and Telecom offered a similar service called Bildschirmtext (Btx): []

      That system eventually evolved into the T-Online ISP in Germany. So it wasn't entirely a dead end.

      . . . and the access nodes for the system were running . . . wait for it . . . OS/2!

    • by funkboy ( 71672 )

      Who would redo the same today?

      Iran & North Korea.

    • Actually, before Windows 95, there wasn't enough on the Internet to justify the inclusion of a SLIP/PPP "stack" for dial-up Internet connections. (This was back in the days when paid online services like CompuServe dominated the scene.) That's why Windows 95 was such a huge breakthrough for Internet usage--you didn't need to add a program to get the SLIP/PPP "stack" for dial-up Internet access, and a lot of people have said that the commercial usage of the Internet really took off from 1995 on when millions

      • The Trumpet Winsock software plus the early Nestcape Navigator made the early internet possible on Window >=3.0 and there were a lot of Internet even in those days.
        • This must be where I get declared officially old...

          Because I distinctly remember those days in the early 90s, and routinely used Trumpet Winsock with Netscape Navigator 2 and (and later 3) on my win3x machine. (ahhh... old school 486es..) There was quite a bit on the internet then. About all it was missing were internet Venerial Diseases, like Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, and pals, and the ubiquitous adverts that sustain said ilk.

          BUT, if you REALLY wanted services like those, there were plenty of messageboar

        • True, but because the Trumpet Winsock software had to be installed before you got on the Internet, that kind of cut its appeal to many less-experienced users. But with Windows 95 offering SLIP/PPP "stack" built in, that made it very easy to configure the computer for real Internet access, and this opened the door for a huge leap up in commercial Internet access.

          • True, but because the Trumpet Winsock software had to be installed before you got on the Internet, that kind of cut its appeal to many less-experienced users. But with Windows 95 offering SLIP/PPP "stack" built in, that made it very easy to configure the computer for real Internet access, and this opened the door for a huge leap up in commercial Internet access.

            In my case at least it was cost. From 1993-1995 we used a shell account on a local freenet for internet access. Because it was, err, free. The cost of dialup SLIP/PPP providers was dropping, but early on you were paying high cost per hour / minute (hence all the "free" hours... not months... of AOL service on floppies). As it was the ISPs would supply a disk that would install and configure trumpet on a win3.x computer, or just configure the built in stack on Win95, so configuring wasn't that hard.

            So for us

      • by Sique ( 173459 )
        Actually, before Windows 95, there was already so much Internet, that MSN (which was introduced at the same time and launched as a dial up network for Windows users) never gained any relevant marketshare, and AOL acquired the failing CompuServe. Not to mention eWorld... (anyone remembers Apple's network?).
    • by mad flyer ( 589291 ) on Saturday March 09, 2013 @08:57AM (#43125139)

      For god sake, when you have no fracking clue on a topic at least be kind enough to keep away from writing aboot it.

      The minitel was never design for competing against the internet. It was put in place in the early 80' way before even rtc modem became affordable at times were few people had computers and barely anyone had heard aboot BBSs.

      In fact, the minitel allowed with a serial cable to be used as a 1200/75bps modem for your computer. At the military/scientific level sure it appeared after tcp/ip networks, but for the public, it was here first and stayed there alone for a long time...

      • by phayes ( 202222 )

        When France Télécom decided to kill off the Cyclades network, maintained artificially high prices on modems & point-to-point links, foisted Transpac (their X25 Network) & the Minitel as the solution to all problems it was because they wanted to impose an economic model completely opposed to the Internet. FT was a monopoly back then and wanted a centralized network with FT at the center so that they could tax & control all exchanges between members.

        The Internet, based on decentralized c

      • Agreed minitel is a french take on videotex systems which PRESTEL was the first work started back in the late 60's by the BBC and the GPO. Back in the day i had a minitel in my collection of odd terminals when I worked for Tymnet.
  • From Wikipedia: "In the late 1990s, Minitel connections were stable at 100 million a month plus 150 million online directory inquiries, in spite of growing Internet use."

    I'm actually very surprised by that number. We had a similar system in Australia, but I don't know the number of connections it supported, but I really would have guessed the total users for such a system would have been 100000 at the most.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Use of the minitel was mandatory for a number of administrative things, like getting exams results. So pretty much every home in france had one.

    • by omz13 ( 882548 )
      That 100 million is connections per month... not users. Plus, don't forget that Minitel was heavily used by the French as it was in a lot of homes and readily available. And from a technical viewpoint it was quite sophisticated for its time.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The nationalised telephone company decided to use minitel as a way to look up phone numbers rather than issuing phonebooks 3 times a year. As a consequence the equipment was free and everyone with a telephone had one.

      • The nationalised telephone company decided to use minitel as a way to look up phone numbers rather than issuing phonebooks 3 times a year. As a consequence the equipment was free and everyone with a telephone had one.

        This is really what drove the use of Minitel. Anyone with a phone line had a choice: printed telephone books . . . or a free funky terminal. The better choice for most was quite obvious.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Well, I am French and these numbers are possible as Minitel was very popular at the time.
      Many people were using it for banking, directory search, exam results and of course "Minitel rose".

      • Well, I am French and these numbers are possible as Minitel was very popular at the time.
        Many people were using it for banking, directory search, exam results and of course "Minitel rose".

        I certainly didn't mean to cast doubt upon the figures and that was not my intention at all. I merely express surprise at the number. My original response should not be read as a negative thing; my surprise was meant to read as "wow."

    • by phayes ( 202222 )

      Above & beyond the sex chat sites that made the most money on the Minitel, much of the French government (including education, taxes, trash removal, reimbursement for doctors & dentists, etc) was only available over a minitel connection. When the only way to find out whether you passed an exam or to get an old couch taken away is by using a minitel, you kept using it, all the while hoping they would at last get beyond the tiny 24x40 or 24x80 window the minitel imposed.

      • by ls671 ( 1122017 )

        At some point, somebody must have built a bridge and a terminal emulator program so you could use Minitel from a personal computer.

        Was the technology that proprietary or what ?

        • by Saffaya ( 702234 )

          Minitel usage, apart from a few services and for a a very limited connection time, was on a pay per minute (seconds ?) basis.
          A bridge to Minitel would had to include a billing system.

        • by Anonymous Coward

          It did exist, and was usable only for free services (so not the 36-15 and the like which used the telco payment system to bill). The problem that Minitel had solved and a terminal hadn't was payment mechanisms.

          Vice-versa: you could telnet from a Minitel. Given the first "web clients" would run as shells of a shared account you'd telnet to, you could actually surf the web ca. 1994 using a minitel. I used to read my e-mail using pine from any Post Office free access minitel.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by remi2402 ( 816874 )

          The core network of Minitel was owned and operated by the company now known as Orange. However, the device itself is a really dumb text terminal based on ITU-approved standards: V.23, ASCII, videotex, etc. Most Minitel terminals even have a serial port and thus can be hooked to recent computers [].

          Even back when the core network was still being operated, nothing prevented people from operating their own Minitel server/service. You could directly dial any standard number (not just the short 36xx ones).

        • It was possible to successfully connect and use it with Microsoft Hyper Terminal (and get garbage if you got one configuration parameter wrong)
          The main issue with it is the phone directory was free (as long as you stayed less than three minutes on it) but everything else would be a commercial service that costs the equivalent of $0.45 per minute, or $0.72 per minute or even more.

          So, there's no way you would random browse stuff for a hour, nor have the general population use some e-mail system even though th

        • by phayes ( 202222 )

          The minitel was built on everyone calling specially taxed numbers that bridged into connections over Transpac, France Telecom's x25 network. Using these 36XX Numbers meant that FT would bill users for per minute fees based on which number was used & then pass some of the money onto the service providers. There were a number of numbers, some where users paid no more than FTs normal per minute connection rate, others where users were billed at a rate which just paid the service providers back for the traf

    • Look at it this way - people still used Pagers recently (at least couple of years ago).

    • by mwvdlee ( 775178 )

      It's a case of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it".
      As I understand it, most of those connections were serious users; businesses or people using newsfeeds, stocks, etc.
      The internet could handle all those things just fine. But so could Minitel, and people were already using Minitel.

  • Minitel was all about a network of services, from phone directory to Minitel Rose (ASCII pr0n). Without recreating the network, the exhibit will show dead hardware, not its original soul

    • Minitel Rose (ASCII pr0n).

      The so-called "Pink Pages" generated something like 50% of the revenue for Minitel. It wasn't just ASII p0rn, other . . . um . . . "services" were offered, as well.

      If you want to drive acceptance of a new technology . . . offer p0rn on it. Folks will flock to it.

  • The Dutch version of this, Viditel [], let me do online banking way before there was internet and when people were still going to big bank buildings to fill out forms to do anything with their account. Can't really remember what else I did with it... What could you do with 1200/75 baud [] speeds anyway?

  • Having all this Minitel page data is nice, but would only be useful if they would use a memento style interface where you can browse through time.

    I remember Minitel was used several times to organise rallies against the government, as a type of social media if you like.

  • I remember the time I was using the Minitel, there was no security problems: no viruses (contrary to my Amiga computer), no password or credit cars number stolen, no fake "sites" (services), no porn for the kids. The services themselves were not crackable (the administration interface was generally not available thru the Minitel). It was very convienent to get phone numbers from the other side of the country, since at that time phonebooks were limited to the "département" (subdivision of France). It w
    • by tibit ( 1762298 )

      The security problems just weren't exploited, that's all. I'm pretty damn sure applying today's knowledge, there'd be lots of holes that could be found. Buffer overruns, I'm sure, unless all of the service developers used some secure framework that prevented all that. It's naive to think that all of the service developers back then could pull off what somehow eludes the most today -- namely, code free from exploitable holes.

      • Well, I don't say there was no hole. There probable was some holes, as for every system. I just said there was no security problems.
        First, someone had to pay while you were connected to the service, and at 75bps (upload speed) it whould have been very expensive to try to crack a service.
        Secondly you had strictly no information about the server behind the service. It was like a telnet interface, but wrapped by Frante Telecom to a X25 network.
        Finally, there was no such things as open proxies, Tor network o
    • Actually, there was at least one occurence where someone hacked a service through the Minitel.
      The guy that did it is named Laurent Chemla and was at the time charged with "stealing energy" because there wasn't even any law against hacking at the time :-)

      He went on to create Gandi, and also wrote an essay called "Je suis un voleur" (I'm a thief), where he compares what he's doing (selling DNS) with simply stealing money as he is/was selling the simple procedure of adding a record into a database for ludic
  • Surely they would have better access to archives etc?
    • by ze_jua ( 910531 )

      In fact there _IS_ one []. At the top of Grande Arche de La Défense, Paris []

      But it's closed since 2010 because of political bullshit/jealousy.

      All the collections are still in place at the top of this bulding, but it's closed.

    • There's a nice association in southern France that serves as a museum, called Silicium.

      Their site is under heavy rewriting but you can check their inventory, full of nice computers and not so nice or terribles ones, each with an article.
      Here's the French stuff specifically :), you may check out the Matra Alice as an example of a terrible computer with almost no software, and maybe learn a few derogatory terms in French. Some stuff looks pretty classy such as the Exelvision and Goupil. And, there's an entry

  • We have been lucky enough, here in France, to get the future of internet before everyone else : minitel ! ( music from star wars playing in the background ). Everything in the "cloud" , nothing in the computer. I think that google, microsoft and facebook should preserve and worship the remains of the late minitel amen.
  • That would be a lot of prostitution ads forgotten forever.

God helps them that themselves. -- Benjamin Franklin, "Poor Richard's Almanac"