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The End of Minitel

Hemos posted more than 7 years ago

Networking 39

ZeldorBlat writes "The French Minitel service is closing it's doors at the end of today. Started in 1982, Minitel provides several services now widely available on the web including phone listings, train ticketing, and many other third-party content. Many prefered it to the web for it's simplicity and perceived security. The system is to be replaced with Le Compte Achats, available to businesses only. The notice can be found here."

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Its death is a good thing (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422114)

I remember when Bell Canada tried to introduce a similar service - Alex - a dedicated terminal w. 300 baud modem - to try to take piggyback on the popularity of free BBS systems and pay systems like Compuserve. Of course, even the cheapest modems at the time could do 1200 - 2400 baud, and 9600 baud if you had the bucks.

It was overhyped, overpriced (30 cents/minute), and not missed at all.

Re:Its death is a good thing (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422378)

Forgive me, but that doesn't make any sense at all. It's like saying you had a bad experience with a Ford minivan, so it'd be good if Chrysler stopping making the Caravan.

Re:Its death is a good thing (1)

tomhudson (43916) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422886)

You're forgiven ... since yu probably never saw it.

Bell Canada tried to copy the Minitel scheme, which was already long in the tooth by the early '90s. For a while they also tried to get into the fax business, before finally hitting upon satellite porn . Bell Canada then quickly became North America's top hard-core porn distributor before getting exposed http://www.friends.ca/News/Friends_News/archives/a rticles03300101.asp [friends.ca]

Bell Canada procures its porn from Colorado-based New Frontier Media, which trades on the Nasdaq. Its movies are decidedly not of the soft-porn Playboy TV variety. They depict scenes of sado-masochism, rape, torture, and other graphic acts of sexual violence that many would find morally offensive.

It was a crappy service with high fees, slow downloads, and not much content. Minitel survived as long as it did because it started a decade earlier, so they had a subscriber base that they couldn't just "dump."

Re:Its death is a good thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17423502)

You're missing the point... you're knocking the Minitel because of you're experiences with a vaguely similar service in Canada, which is not the Mintel.

Again, it would be like saying, "I'm glad they stopped making iPods, because I tried a Zune once and hated it". Two different things. Not the same. Comprende?

Re:Its death is a good thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17423788)

No he's not. He's saying the Canadian clone sucked, and will not be missed. He said nothing at all about the French Minitel.

Re:Its death is a good thing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17426904)

He said nothing at all about the French Minitel.

The "It" in the subject line must be referring to the French Minitel system, because that's what this article is about. I can recommend some fine books on reading comprehension, if you need them. They are in English though, so if you speak frog-canuck talk, you might need to brush up.

Fucking Canadians have to make every article about Canada. Your country is shit, as evidenced by the fact that every Canadian of talent and ability leaves that place as soon as they can.

Is the Swiss one still alive? (1)

Jack Malmostoso (899729) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422134)

I remember using public minitel terminals in Switzerland back in the 90s... it was called Videotex AFAIK. They were pretty popular, and they actually represented a good chance to meet people: there was this room next to a big bank with a few terminals, and we used to meet there with friends. I mean, I even convinced a chick to call me on the public payphone next to the terminals... And I was 14. I guess geekiness is something you're born with :) Anyway thanks for the good fun Minitel, RIP!

one down... (1)

macadamia_harold (947445) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422136)

The French Minitel service is closing it's doors at the end of today.

Now if only we could make the same progress with Miniluv, Minitruth, and Miniplenty.

Re:one down... (1)

SEE (7681) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422252)

Now if only we could make the same progress with . . . Miniplenty.

Sorry, France is still vigorously defending the Common Agricultural Policy.

That's too bad (3, Interesting)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422496)

but I guess it was too expensive to maintain, so it had to happen.

The Minitel systemi is slow, old and expensive, but it has one great redeeming quality that the internet doesn't have: it's basically a huge star-shaped network, with the only agent between the dumb terminal (the Minitel proper) and the service provider being France Telecom: FT operates the trunk lines, the last-mile lines (it's just the POTS) and the servers that manage the whole thing. So, what's great about that is, unless someone is tapping your phone line, or some well-placed FT employee is a thieve, there is no way in hell anybody can steal your personal information. As a result, it's an extremely secure way of doing business "online". What's more, you don't need a computer, Windows, anti-virus software and whatnot, so it's great for technophobic people.

But I should say "was", since it is no more. Too bad...

HTTPS + Wii? (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 7 years ago | (#17425438)

So, what's great about that is, unless someone is tapping your phone line, or some well-placed FT employee is a thieve, there is no way in hell anybody can steal your personal information. As a result, it's an extremely secure way of doing business "online". What's more, you don't need a computer, Windows, anti-virus software and whatnot, so it's great for technophobic people.

So what makes it so much better than visiting HTTPS sites on Internet Channel for Wii?

Re:HTTPS + Wii? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17425994)

So what makes it so much better than visiting HTTPS sites on Internet Channel for Wii?

I'm going to take a guess here, and assume that you've never used/seen a Mintel? Forgive me if that is not the case.

A minitel, unlike a Wii, has a keyboard. The Wiis software keyboard is as easy to use as a regular one, especially if you have to type a lot in -- it's fine for entering URLs, but I wouldn't want to use it for writing email, for example (yes, I have a Wii). A mintel also does not require a seperate screen, so there's no contention with the TV (ie, if one person wants to watch TV, and other wants to check something online with the Wii). Lastly, there's the price :) I know Wii fans love the $250 cost of the Wii, but Minitel is free -- $0 (or rather 0F).

The real question is how does this beat a Dreamcast :) $20 for a used DC, $5 for the web browser disk (if it's not included), $20 more for a mouse and keyboard... not too shabby. And four controller ports for multi-player games. And it runs Linux. Yes, I like my Dreamcast :) High-def before the term was around :)

Re:HTTPS + Wii? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17442954)

You do know that the Fench stopped using Francs fucking years ago, right?

Clueless cunt.

Re:That's too bad (1)

jusdisgi (617863) | more than 7 years ago | (#17429282)

So, what's great about that is, unless someone is tapping your phone line, or some well-placed FT employee is a thieve, there is no way in hell anybody can steal your personal information.

Nope. The fact that FT operates the whole network only means that man-in-the-middle and sniffing attacks are no longer possible. Insofar as "doing business online" still involves you giving personal information to the third party (which is to say, FT does not operate in the merchant credit services capacity) then that third party can still rip you off. And since actual incidents of sniffing/mim are insignificant compared to the unprotected types of scams, the difference is pretty unimportant...particularly in light of giving up the decentralized and freely-evolving nature of the Internet.

Re:That's too bad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17441718)

Even when you run into a scam, it is probably a lot easier to get address and other details of a scammer when he is offering services on minitel, than it would be when he operated on internet.
After all, those operating on a closed network like minitel probably have to have a service contract with a credible company like France Telecom.

(I have no real details about that, it could be that it is just the same maze of hazy companies that the "SMS payservices" are here. GSM operators, SMS service providers, lots of middlemen, and all of them telling you that they cannot give the name of their partners in crime)

too bad (2, Informative)

Fezzik (7916) | more than 7 years ago | (#17422614)

I remember using Minitel maybe 10 years ago when I lived in Paris briefly. It was nice because it was very, very focused. There were no banner ads, no flashy graphics, just plain text and enough buttons to get the job done. There's no technical reason we couldn't have the same thing on the Web, but because there is so much more you can do, we get sites like Amazon's (not to pick on them; they're all bad) with 500 options that take forever to load on slow connections and nobody really wants anyway. And don't even get me started on embedded Flash movies.

Re:too bad (1)

pe1chl (90186) | more than 7 years ago | (#17441726)

The web was the same, before the "website designers" entered the scene.
Many early webpages were plaintext, with only the occasional picture like a company logo or a nice-looking bullet.

Indeed, this was almost a requirement in the 14k4 modem days. It can still be done today, but apparently it does not sell in most markets.

Wrong ! (4, Informative)

alexhs (877055) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423008)

FTFNotice :

To allow you to access to the Minitel services you need, in 2007, we suggest another of our products : Le Compte Achats.
Minitel services haven't been closed, web-based "minitelfr" allowing access to Minitel services from the Internet has been. Minitel like BSD still is dying but not dead yet.

the reason for its popularity was billing users (2, Interesting)

doug (926) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423140)

The reason it was popular was that the users will billed per minute and some of that money went to the content provider, with the rest going to France Telecom. French business didn't like switching to web pages because they are a pure expense, while minitel pages generated some revenue. When I lived in France (mid to late 90s) my friends preferred web pages, but that simply wasn't an option in many cases.

I'm not saying that minitel doesn't have security mechanisms, I'm just saying that its popularity was due to economics.

Personally, I'm glad it is gone. I thought it was slow and clunky a decade ago, and I can't imagine that I would like it any more today.

- doug

Re:the reason for its popularity was billing users (1)

phayes (202222) | more than 7 years ago | (#17428130)

Another major reason the minitel was widely used was that the french government bankrolled it (to the tune of over a billion francs). You could get one free from FT in exchange for agreeing to forgo receiving an annual telephone book, but using it to find numbers could sometimes be an exercise in frustration due to the rigidity of the software used. When using it to look up numbers it cost essentially nothing to use, but the per minute charges on the other services (like the 3615) added up fast and were billed to your telephone line.

France's investment in the minitel came with some hidden costs. In the government's choice to push the minitel, they killed off a number of network projects that could have made France an internet pioneer and instead retarded the internet as long as possible to avoid competition with FT's cash cow.

As is just about always the case with new technology, sex was the major moneymaker. Chat rooms where people could talk dirty to each other initially then prostitution rings using the minitel to setup meetings. One of my first jobs in France long ago was writing a minitel server. While debugging it I chatted with some of the more addicted "minitellers". Lots of people would discover the minitel, run up a few thousand francs, then swear off it once they received their first bi-monthly bill from FT with the added charges.

Some people were so hooked that they used illicit means to support their habit. One common scam would be to move to a new appartment, get a new telephone line, use a minitel on it for three months, then move again and not pay FT. Some people ran up tabs of over 250000FF (30000 USD) before the FT in all it's governmental monopolied nimbleness started checking that people asking for a new line had paid their bills in previous appartments before opening a new line.

When it first came out, it wasn't too badly obsolete as 2400 baud modems were still common. After a few years the 1200 baud modems were holding it back but the government was unwilling to fork out another major lump of cash to replace the existing minitels with faster modems and the 9600 baud minitels were stillborn.

Re:the reason for its popularity was billing users (2, Informative)

Lost Engineer (459920) | more than 7 years ago | (#17428832)

This is -1 offtopic, but apartment has one 'p' in English. In French, it has two. Since I got regular spelling tests in French but not English from middle school on, I spelled it wrong for years. Thank goodness for spell checking in Firefox 2.0. No I'm not using it right now, so don't ream me for spelling errors.

Re:the reason for its popularity was billing users (1)

phayes (202222) | more than 7 years ago | (#17429306)

When posting after midnight on Jan 2 after living more than 20 years in France, misspelling apartment is no surprise. FF flagged it as misspelled but given that I often post in french where it flags almost every word, I've gotten into the habit of ignoring FF's spellchecker. I need a spellchecker that can tell when I'm writing in english & when I'm writing in french...

OFQ (0, Offtopic)

thrillseeker (518224) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423472)

H: This is my Universal Translator. It could have been my greatest invention, but it translates everything into an incomprehensible dead language
C: Hello.
UT:: Bonjour!
H: See? Utter gibberish!

The death of Videotex? (2, Insightful)

dfoulger (1044592) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423680)

Comments above suggest that this article suggests a more than may actually be occurring. Still, it does appear that we are beginning to approach the end of Videotex and the elaborate graphics compression schemes that supported it. That can only be a good thing. All Videotex was created with the tools that enforced the mindsets of what, today, we would usually think of as badly designed web pages. The "features" of these pages:

  • they weren't resizable
  • they had very limited resolution graphics
  • text was most often transmitted as a graphical representation rather than as real text
  • pages had to be created in a compatible Videotext editor

There was a time, before the web, when it was the only way to create visually high quality content for the net. I remember going to conferences on teletex/videotex back in the late 70's and early 80's when it seemed like a genuine alternative to dial-up terminal systems, but even then it seemed much more complicated than it needed to be. I won't say I'm glad to see it go. I will say that I'm amazed that it continued as long as it did.

Re:The death of Videotex? (1)

Half-pint HAL (718102) | more than 7 years ago | (#17430396)

All Videotex was created with the tools that enforced the mindsets of what, today, we would usually think of as badly designed web pages. The "features" of these pages:

  • they weren't resizable
  • they had very limited resolution graphics
  • text was most often transmitted as a graphical representation rather than as real text
  • pages had to be created in a compatible Videotext editor

As compared to the "features" of flash pages:

  • they aren't resizable
  • designed for a monitor which by Murphy's Law has a resolution either one size bigger or one size smaller than yours
  • text transmitted as a graphical representation rather than as real text, or alternatively as text + a font file.
  • pages have to be created in a compatible Flash editor
  • browser plugins must be updated every few months to keep pages working

The majority of HTML pages still don't adhere to good design anyway, with many of them using fixed-sized fonts, fixed-width screen sizes, in-line images (including headlines) with no alt....

Plus ça change, plus la meme chose....

HAL.

Re:The death of Videotex? (1)

dfoulger (1044592) | more than 7 years ago | (#17448544)

Nonresizable web pages with fixed fonts drive me crazy too. I was never a fan of flash until recently. The web desktop programs, most of which are done with flash (and several of which appear to be resizable) are converting me. My son, who programs UI's in meta-languages that produce flash UI's based on XML and code, has been a big fan for a while, but there are lots of badly done web pages whose worst feature is their flash requirements. That's particularly true for people with slow connections.

My personal dislike is PDF's, which seem to serve no other purpose beyond translating paper to the computer. I use them when I have to (and clearly prefer them to distributing word or powerpoint files, but so long as you aren't insistent on preserving dead tree metaphors, generic HTML (no fixed fonts) is the way to go. Well done (as in Dreamweaver), moreover, HTML is usually much less expensive in bytes than NAPLPS was, which makes it a better choice for low speed connections.

I still design all my pages with the presumption that someone will try to access them using a low speed connection and a screen with unpredictable resolution and font sizes. A good practice, I think.

Re:The death of Videotex? (1)

pe1chl (90186) | more than 7 years ago | (#17441772)

This is unfair critisism. In the days when Videotex was designed and rolled out, it was very rare to have a pixel-addressable graphic display, especially in an inexpensive device.
All video displays of those days have a fixed arrangement of so-many-characters by so-many-lines, where the cells of the matrix are displayed using a "character generator", a lookup table that displays a certain character in a pixel grid within the character cell. This reduces the amount of memory, and also reduces the amount of work the software has to perform to fill the display.
(it was much faster to put a single ASCII code in a memory cell to display a single character, than to copy the pixel image of that character into 8-16 locations in a graphic display)

The result of this design is that the characters are fixed-size. The "graphics" are actually a range of characters cleverly designed to form a complete set of all combinations of 2x3 blocks within the character cell. So the resolution is less than the pixel size, a result of the savings in memory.

The first personal computers available often had a similar (or the same) display technology. So it is not like they overlooked a capability that would have made it into a much better system.

Re:The death of Videotex? (1)

dfoulger (1044592) | more than 7 years ago | (#17448374)

I don't think it is an unfair criticism. Videotex rolls out more or less in parallel with the arrival of Personal Computers, a number of which featured graphics that were better than Videotex without any of the contortions that Videotex standards used. I will give credit. They were trying to make the best of very slow dial-up connections (often as slow as 110 bps back them; sometimes a third that speed) and to leverage already ubiquitous televisions. From that perspective they probably succeeded in making a silk purse of a sows ear. But anyone with any significant experience using Apple, Commodore, or (especially) Exidy machines knew that the effort was likely to prove a waste of time. I was fortunate. At the time I was editing "EMMS" (Electronic Mail and Message Systems) rather than its sister publication "Videotext" (both $250 a year newsletters). I never had to pretend that Videotex was a good long term investment. That said, I was a big supporter of Prodigy when came out, mostly because of its interactive conferencing and e-mail capabilities, but I always found the NAPLPS screens painful because you couldn't cut and paste text.

Re:The death of Videotex? (1)

pe1chl (90186) | more than 7 years ago | (#17449260)

The display standard used by Videotex and Teletext was defined in 1974. The first services that used it appeared around 1977.
That predates the development and release of the personal computers that you compare it with (which appeared end 1977 and in 1978).

Of course, larger scale rollout of videotex and teletext happened only by 1980, and by then it would have been done differently when development only had started at that date. A lot happened in those six years.

In those days we were all focussed on getting a reasonable performance out of the hardware we had to work with. A 6502 or Z-80 could scroll a 1-2 KB videoram in reasonable time (of course videotex does not use scrolling), but for the typical 12-16 KB of RAM required for a fully pixel-addressable display at TV resolution the processor was too slow to scroll it without painfully visible ripple.
So most systems (including the ones you name) operated by default (or only) in a textmode with fixed width and a character generator. Full graphic mode was only used for special purposes, and even then there often was some effort made so you could use the graphic mode for graphics, and still have the character mode available for text overlays so the system did not have to resort to graphic character painting.
"Painting" a fullsize graphic screen usually required a good fraction of a second in those days.

Re:The death of Videotex? (1)

dfoulger (1044592) | more than 7 years ago | (#17470072)

In fairness, the development of PC's starts in 1974 too; earlier if you accept the arguments of some in IBM. The Altair kit appears in early 1975; Bill Gates' Basic implementation follows fairly quickly. Apple starts shipping fully built machines a year later. I don't want to make a big deal out of that ... and it certainly isn't my attempt to make light of your work, which is the beginning of a long series of efforts aimed at delivering graphics to, depending on how you want to view it, home machines and pixilated (rather than vector) screens. The fact is that microprocessors made many things possible that weren't possible without them. The 6502's and Z80's that powered your early Videotex powered early PC's as well. Videotex was the logical extension of the prevailing model of computing in the mid-1970's, that of a central host delivering content to dumb terminals. Personal Computers, starting with the Altair, was the beginning of new model, one of personal computers interacting with servers/services. The corporations and other institutions that bet big on Videotex were making a sensible bet given the prevailing model, and the work they financed has paid dividends in PC content standards, software, services, and programmers. The small startups that made PC's happen were making much less sensible bets, but their bets panned out. My comments were made from a very 1979 plus perspective. While I saw a lot of e-mail, bulletin boards, network services, and nascent PC's going into that period, I didn't really encounter Videotex in any serious way until I was finishing grad school. I am aware that planning and preparing for Videotex long preceded its exploitation, but the same can be said, to at least some extent, for PC's as well.

3615 Finis (2, Interesting)

spaceyhackerlady (462530) | more than 7 years ago | (#17423812)

I remember when Minitel was first introduced, and, in 1982, it was pretty hot stuff. Lots of people were playing with videotex in the 1980s (remember Telidon [ieee.org] ?), but only France seemed to find a use for it. I knew people who used Prestel [wikipedia.org] , but all they ever seemed to do with it was send pr0n.

I have used Minitel when visiting France for its original purpose, putting the phone book online. It worked.

...laura

Not as dumb as all that (2, Insightful)

melonman (608440) | more than 7 years ago | (#17424118)

Minitel was slow and basic, but, in terms of domestic market penetration, it achieved in the 80s what the Internet didn't achieve for another 20 years. By giving out the terminals for free (initially, and then asking a peppercorn rent), and by convincing customers it was a telephone, not a computer, France Telecom got the entire nation using text-based comms, for everything from directory enquiries through weather forecasts and company reports to porn (I never did work out how that worked on a teletext screen, but there you are...) There are still plenty of Minitel users who have never taken to any of the PC or set-tpo box alternatives because they seem more complicated.

Re:Not as dumb as all that (1)

renoX (11677) | more than 7 years ago | (#17424810)

> to porn (I never did work out how that worked on a teletext screen, but there you are...)

I think it was mainly sex chat and apparently it worked quite well: it was one big source of revenue for FT and in France at the time, all the ads billboards were covered with nearly nude women doing advertisement for 'Minitel rose' (so many that it was a little annoying).

There was also some text porn and a few ASCII arts of course..
Some people spent *a lot* of money on these 'sex site'.

The End?? (4, Informative)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 7 years ago | (#17425084)

Hold on, the end of the Minitel? Nothing less? Because when I look at the main Minitel [minitel.fr] page there is no such thing. Plus it seems to me that if the Minitel network would stop working I would have heard about it quite a lot from my family, on TV and I'm sure we would have returned the terminal to France Télécom, not to mention that the Slashdot article would have been edited.

It rather seems that the news is rather about some particular online (on the web) service, not the end of the network itselves.

Re:The End?? (1)

4D6963 (933028) | more than 7 years ago | (#17427540)

not to mention that the Slashdot article would have been edited.

I obviously meant the Wikipedia article

Re:The End?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#17429696)

What appears to be closing is the "Minitel.FR" ( http://www.minitelfr.com/ [minitelfr.com] ) service, which is described as "With your microcomputer and via Internet you can consult the Minitel services. It is enough to download and install a software of Minitel access that we provide you free. Your computer is one: " (google translation). Judging by the screenshots, it's a virtual mintel terminal that emulates a real one and uses the net (not the web) instead of the phone line Doesn't sound to me like the minitel network itself, merely one particular minitel-over-the-internet service.

One of those stories that drives you crazy (1)

smchris (464899) | more than 7 years ago | (#17431050)

From wikipedia:

"In the 1990's, US West, (now Qwest), launched a Minitel service offering in its service areas called "CommunityLink." The service, a joint venture of US West and France Télécom, utilized Minitel-emulator software for the IBM PC, Commodore 64, Apple II and other computers. The service was fairly short-lived,"

I _knew_ I saw a kiosk selling Minitel in Mall of America. I knew it. I was aware of Minitel so it caught my attention enough to look at the screen and have the guy exchange some words with me.

Minitel Surrenders? (1)

Gothmolly (148874) | more than 7 years ago | (#17446464)

Isn't that the more appropriate headline?
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