Fun story: at the time TCP/IP did not ship standard with Windows, so we had to ship CD-ROMs with installers for WinSock, along with a browser (initially Netscape, then IE because it had much better provisioning tools, not because of Microsoft's dirty tricks though they certainly tried). My colleague who was responsible for this was clearly so traumatized he shortly later left the company and joined the Catholic priesthood...
Wasn't that, in part, due to the fact that many people in France already had a Minitel at home?
As for the PC penetration, there was many, but most of them where not ready for network usage : Commodore, Amstrad, Amiga, Thomson and first generation IBM-PC with MS-DOS. Only the last Amiga, Macintosh and IBM compatibles had the software to use a modem (Thomson had included a Minitel as dual bot in some of their computer instead).
There was no need for internet or to change the computer when WordPerfect, Multiplan and games still work perfectly. At the time, the pricey computer than you bought in the 80's was still good enough in the 90's...
I think than what had incite people to get a computer with modem is not WWW but email (with was not a Minitel feature). The real thing than Minitel hindred in France are Bulletin Board Systems. They where never really a thing in France.
For the curious, there are still a few unofficial Minitel services available : https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micro-serveur_Minitel All you need is a Raspberry Pi and a modified Minitel...
As a Frenchman who spent most of my high school evenings on demoscene-oriented BBSes like A.C.E., Dune and Eden, I'll beg to differ and raise this : http://web.fdn.fr/~musical/bbsf.txt
Worth noting there were free services too. The most notable was the white/yellow pages at number 11 (later 36 11), although it was only free for the first 3 minutes, but it usually didn't take that long to find what you wanted. Or if it did, you could just reset the connection.
This meant that even those on older hardware like 8-bit micros with monospaced dot matrix printers were still at an advantage. So people often ran with older hardware for longer.
It wasn't really until a combination of PC gaming taking off (particularly with 3D games that consoles of the same era couldn't compete with) and the WWW that many Europeans started taking IBM-compatible machine upgrades seriously.
but that was the same for all countries
I had the painful job of getting Windows running with netware ie IPX also with TCP/IP
Not really, Windows For Workgroups 3.11 offered an addon called Wolverine  but it wasn't even included by default AFAIK. Win95 is where TCP/IP support became normal for Windows.
Like installing Office on 35+ disks
1 - I've written about this here https://atodorov.me/2021/03/07/please-support-web-monetizati... and it was widely, if mostly negatively, discussed on HN https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26375857
If you're trying to get an income from operating a website (or any other creative activity for that matter) that's a different matter. That's what i was referring to with "monetization". I personally believe that we as a species would be better off if less energy was spent trying to monetize everything and more into providing actual services to actual people.
Then, I'd ask the minitel site to send me by fax the doc I wanted to read and it would call me and print on fax via the same emulator lol
The next few months, EVERYTHING moved to the internet and this stopped being necessary, but it was kinda cool... and HORRIBLY expensive vs the internet.
There's still a Minitel today: it's the Apple ecosystem.
Minitel demonstrated regular people were willing to buy services on a machine (phone, phone-like terminal, computer) and use it as part of their normal lives.
The terminals, software it ran (as the "OS"), Network and billing were all handled by one entity. And only this entity could approve software for distribution. It was a completely centralized walled garden.
Office, Netflix, Youtube Premium, Spotify, Blackblaze can all run anywhere, and on platforms such as Windows are free to do their own distribution.
One of my Minitels acting as a terminal over a serial cable I made... displaying jgc.org via Lynx: https://imgur.com/a/ecmvfMj
Once modems were widespread, it was a lot better to use Minitel emulators on a computer, as one could record and replay sessions after disconnection—a key aspect since most Minitel numbers were billed at premium rates, to allow services to be monetized.
still, good days. They even had games!
Advertisements for Minitel services would say something like "Dial 3615 HOTSTUFF to meet a passionate lover". A lot of these services were adult chat, games, or extremely low-res porn, and it was easy to rack up a massive phone bill by connecting to them (you'd have to remember to disconnect, too!). Another very common use cases was phone book lookups.
Think of it as a physical terminal for a ncurses-style terminal app using a remote client, with the display updating line by line with a scanning cursor as you received data. There's an example of what that looked like in this short documentary about Minitel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zlUmxUB9RhI&t=500s – every single page loaded line by line that way.
Teenage wet fantasies and all that :-)
(disclosure, i'm french)
Now I’m curious if the Home Alone screenwriter watched it.
Also I find it amusing that Home Alone in France is titled "Mom, I missed the plane"
That's the entire history of Hollywood and american music industry. Those businesses who wouldn't like us to share made their fortunes on entirely borrowed things from other cultures. Many of the great revered american singers copied note-for-note traditional african songs, for example.
I remember in my area some pubs had these, they were on the tables and you could use them while you were there, it was the first time in my life that I was chatting with someone on the other side of the globe. (I had tried visiting some of the popular BBS on my Amiga to look at cool stuff but had never actually exchanged messages with anyone online). It was cool because you could talk to perfect strangers but sometimes the discussion would go deep. I remember I was so excited about it and my friends were too. I think in the modern Internet we don't really have something like that.
 (Italian Wikipedia) - https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Videotel
 (picture) https://forum.telefonino.net/images_fotodb/pict001494862_7_1...
 (picture) https://i.ebayimg.com/00/z/3UcAAOSwT5RdB2AU/$_59.JPG
Sometimes having twenty slightly different services that are blocked from interoperating for the sake of some abstract notion of privacy isn't that great after all.
For some this is not some abstract notion but a real worry. I am glad the internet started decentralised.
Certainly, Minitel was not a secretive Silicon Valley-styled company with dual class shares or other entrenching governance structures, that allow for concentration of voting power in the hands of company insiders, through disproportionate allocation of voting rights among shareholders.
It seems the French do not have the same hatred of telecom that Amercians do.
Regardless of the public opinion toward telecom, it has historically been subject to far more regulation than so-called "tech" companies operating websites. Sadly, some of today's telecom companies try to emulate or piggyback on the privacy violating behaviour of "Big Tech".
Centralisation/decentralisation is an interesting debate, but if the issue is privacy then, IMO, one also needs to consider the question of regulation/deregulation.
Perhaps Minitel was an example of a regulated, government-supported public computer networking service that worked very well.
Silicon Valley and its charlatan ideology is a privacy disaster. It is probably a threat to the survival of democratic societies as we know them.
Oh yes we do. France Telecom back in the day wasn't all that bad, but the prices were crazy: copper is expensive but not so much that you should pay every month dozens of francs (before the euro, don't remember the exact number) without even paying for usage. But at least from what i remember tech support and intervention times were decent before the Internet, then came Wanadoo and then the privatization of France Télécom into Orange and now we have shitty service like everyone else.
It was brutally expensive actually.
What's abstract about it?
Related, in Santa Monica where I grew up we had one of the first municipally operated BBSes in the world called PEN  that was primarily accessible from the library and other public terminals. I remember it was pretty fascinating but something that was more for adults so I never really used it much.
One thing I loved about the BBS era (1980s to about ~1995) was that everything was distinctly local, due to long distance charges. It added a layer of meaning and rootedness to online activities thats impossible to recapture now.
 See page 77: https://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/11860/3290549...
Perhaps in other cultures and contexts (probably far smaller and tight-knit ones) it may be possible to build the kind of infrastructure to enhance civic spirit, but I fear in the US at least it'd devolve into Nextdoor-style neighbor gripes which are mostly indistinguishable from the arguments on any other fora.
Thanks for the info!
Overall, it was a much faster adoption than internet: it wasn't until the smartphone that everybody was online, before that lots of families didn't have the mean or the skills to operate a computer. Not mentioning that Windows was such a mess. My father bought a PC which became so slow that he couldn't even use it anymore.
If this description is just noise, word salad... well. It didn't make much sense to farmers, either.
An important fact hinted at below is: you got the bill as part of your monthly phone bill.
Probably the most common use, not all that interesting to us, was replacing 411 (remember that? I don't think that was the Information number in France.)
Besides porn, it also had online dating.
In Brazil (São Paulo) we had a similar, Minitel-based, system. No online dating, but I met my first wife in a chatroom. It also had banking and you could transfer money to different banks with it. Initially I got an MSX computer with a modem (at that time the telco rented out the computer instead of a dedicated terminal for a ridiculously low fee), which was also useful for connecting to local BBSs.
Later on I gave the MSX back (should never have done that - it was an unremarkable computer, but a pretty good videogame) and added a V.23 modem to my Apple II+ clone. The system continued to evolve, started accepting 1200 and 2400 bps inbound connections (which made it more accessible, because V.23 modems were not easy to come by). Last time I used it was with Windows 95 and its terminal software.
Legend says the system ran on Multics on a Honeywell-Bull mainframe, making me an actual Multics user.
Also in France, 15 is medical services, 17 is the police and 18 are the firefighters. By calling 112 anywhere in Europe you'll get an English speaking operator that can dispatch any emergency service.
Minitel - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=29004616 - Oct 2021 (2 comments)
Old School Minitel Laptop: 7 Steps (With Pictures) – Instructables - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28861842 - Oct 2021 (1 comment)
Minitel, the Open Network Before the Internet - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=28794257 - Oct 2021 (3 comments)
The Rise and Fall of Minitel - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=25507260 - Dec 2020 (23 comments)
Minitel: The Online World France Built Before the Web (2017) - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24439744 - Sept 2020 (196 comments)
Log on Like It’s 1985: A Fragment of Minitel Returns - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18781820 - Dec 2018 (9 comments)
Minitel – The Rise and Fall of a National Tech Treasure [video] - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16263093 - Jan 2018 (67 comments)
Minitel: The Online World France Built Before the Web - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15401405 - Oct 2017 (15 comments)
Minitel: The Online World France Built Before the Web - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14681561 - July 2017 (107 comments)
Minitel, the Open Network Before the Internet - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14577881 - June 2017 (53 comments)
Minitel, France's precursor to the Web, to go dark 30/6/12 - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4175141 - June 2012 (32 comments)
Minitel: The rise and fall of the France-wide web - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4170531 - June 2012 (21 comments)
How France fell out of love with Minitel - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4088360 - June 2012 (1 comment)
France's Minitel service in 1983: online banking, eshopping, and B2B - https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2733106 - July 2011 (46 comments)
But the French bootstrapped the ecosystem by giving everyone who wanted it a free minitel instead of a printed directory which didn't happen in the UK, due to that Prestel never really took off.
Season 7 of the podcast is all about the first times of the web.
Was called Viatel.
Xavier Niel (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xavier_Niel) started his empire with a sex oriented chat service.
In 1998, Minitel generated €832 million ($1,121 million) of revenue, of which €521 million was channelled by France Télécom to service providers.
Maybe the french stuff was more useful in practice, the german always seemed scammy, somehow.
It was highly pushed by the national telco. The telco lent terminals for free so they were easily available, and there were tons of useful services, especially but not only from national companies: starting from the 80s you had stocks, online shopping, travel reservations, information services, message boards, databases, games, dating sites, ...
Monetisation / payment was integrated from the start, through the phone bill: just like premium-rate phone numbers, minitel had premium-rate services (both first and third party), so you could make money out of valuable services. It was nothing compared to the modern web (~25000 services and about $1bn revenue at its height), but for the mid-80s to mid-90s and out of a population of 60m it was quite massive.
 trying to get rid of phonebooks was a big reason for minitel in the first place
De Gaulle had neglected the country's phone network and it was in a piteous state by the 1960s. A popular comedy sketch, "Le 22 à Asnières" by Fernand Raynaud had the hapless protagonist trying to call number 22 at Asnières and it was such an ordeal he only managed to get connected by a telephone operator in New York...
During the 70s, specially under the technocratic president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, the French government invested massively to catch up and for several years the Directorate-General of Telecommunications was the single largest government department by budget. They bet massively on digital switching and created huge telco gear vendors in Alcatel. Towards the end of the 70s that massive surge of investment had started to dwindle and the government was trying to figure out what could be the next wave to foster the telecommunications equipment industry, and Minitel was the answer.
It didn't export well. There was a trial in the US with US West, but it didn't pan out. My former boss Jean Lebrun was one of the key people on the electronic phone directory project, and at the time it was the largest real-time database in the world. It was essentially a distributed in-memory database build on 1980s computer technology, and as you can imagine very expensive. Fun story: Oracle tried to get them to evaluate their RDBMS for the project, and even gave them access to the source code, but it was found to be inadequate.
Bunch of discussion a year or so ago: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=24439744
There’s an occasional mention of Cepremades as an inspiration for the Internet Protocol, some technicality about Alohanet, but never a history of why that should be in everyone’s living room, except a mysterious prescient and unhelpful AOL, their omnipresent CD, and nothing about the government-sponsored, centralised project to make cheap modulator-demodulator use long copper wires — something that proved both incredibly difficult and relevant.
Do you mean for digital technologies or for specifically DSL?
As I remember up to 1996 there was no commercial DSL in France, but there were excellent ISDN coverage (with rate up to 128kbits/sec with two channels). However it was quite expensive and when DSL was commercialized in France, it was cheaper at the basic rate of 512Kbits/sec.
ISDN commercialization started around 1988 in France.
In 1996 the Network part of FT started to think how to open the network to higher bandwidth, and it was not so easy because the internal backbone was built on ATM as it was used by Minitel users.
Some years later (2002?) with declining Minitel revenues, FT decided to give the priority to DSL, with an adequate IP backbone.
(Source: It's only from my memories, I was involved in Rennes' 1987 ISDN experiment, network organization in 96-98 and commercialization of ISDN and later DSL, in Brittany, from 1998 to 2002)
People are excited because they can build, any state you see is not the end all be all, and can be changed... by you! It's also very lucrative, more than FAANG while using a simpler stack to deploy a product, so that will keep attracting builders and their networks.
And why I believe Web2 should have something like Wordpress to take on Big Tech.
And why I think Web3 should move past grift and peer to peer protocols, and to applications to holistivally serve entire communities. (https://intercoin.org/proposal.pdf)
PS: I have put my money where my mouth is and built exactly this, over 10 years with no VC funding, and it’s profitable. Qbix for Web2 and Intercoin for Web3 https://intercoin.org/overview.pdf