View Full Version : French Minitel system

October 22nd, 2007, 12:06 AM
My wife got me to watch this movie, Bitter Moon, and the protagonist of the flick is using two computers, one looks like a regular XT clone and the other I found out was one of a system from France called a Minitel. It looks like a hybrid computer/terminal. Like a BBS system grown up to Unix standards, the way George Orwell saw computers back int the day of having a master computer here and there, and having terminals all over the place accessing them.

These machines are from the 80's, as I read here:


and some are still being used today. It looks like a viable system of doing things, it really does. And best of all, no windows!!! Has anyone here ever used this system? I mean the whole system in its hayday, not just the minitel. It looks like a hobbyist's dream, to have his own net through minitels!


October 22nd, 2007, 01:09 AM
All I can remember is everyone complaining about how much the "per minute" charges were. Reminds me of my $300 phone bill when I just started doing the BBS thing. I stopped calling 2000 miles for 5 hours pretty damn fast.

November 1st, 2007, 12:16 AM
Hi NathanAllan,

yeah, I remember the French system, it got tons of publicity in the early 1980s. They called the technology "videotext" at that time. I read a book on it back then, and recall that some in the US were pointing to it as an example of how we were falling behind countries like France (that they said had the foresight to invest in the videotext technology).

Here's a good site for background on it -- http://www.museum.tv/archives/etv/V/htmlV/videotext/videotext.htm

Videotext, as originally conceived, seems to have been one of those technologies that never really had the impact some thought it would, although in France upwards of 10 million people were using it at one time.

IMHO, it got knocked out of the box by the rise of the PC. Just like Wang Word-processors, videotext equipment was specialized, so it lost out to the more generalized tool -- the personal computer. PCs could do anything specialized videotext equipment could do (and them some), just like they could do anything Wang Word-processors could do.

November 6th, 2007, 11:53 AM
In France, the Minitel was (is still!) pretty expensive. Although its most popular use, the online phone directory, was charged no more than a local call, a typical fee for other services (various directories and databases, online bets, adult chats...) was 2.17 Francs per minute (about US $0.4).

The machine itself was not much more than an ANSI terminal with an integrated modem.

November 6th, 2007, 03:02 PM
Videotex was used in many European countries (and Japan?), and there were great plans for the future versions with improved, high-resolution graphics. I don't know if the IBM PC is to blame for its fall, after all there were Videotex adapters and software for the PC as well. I think pricing in combination with other professional telecommunication systems had a greater impact. Home users preferred to call regular BBS:es, and of course many years later ISP's arrived.

It is nice to hear that Minitel still is in business. I'm not sure either of the other operators are (Prestel and so on).

By the way, here is a translated quote from one of my old Videotex magazines:

IBM - USA enters major Videotex project
IBM, CBS and Sears, Roebuch & Co have signed a co-operative deal on the Videotex market. A lot of details are still secret, but according to a consultant who are involved in the deal, they will start in the North East part of the USA with tele shopping, bank and financial services & news. It may take a few years before the system is in commercial use.

One of the major reasons why these three big companies are serious about entering the Videotex market is that now they can reach many of the 7 million home users in the USA, including the users of IBM's new PCjr. At IBM they believe a big majority of the US population will use Videotex daily in the 1990's, both at work and at home.

So, unless the notice was full of factual errors, IBM at some point believed in the technology even for their line of PCs and PCjr. The same magazine has a few more short stories from the USA, such as most Americans pay their bills online around midnight (using Videotex systems), so it can not have been totally unheard of.

Furthermore, I have another issue of the same magazine, this one dated 1985. It writes about how IBM held a Videotex conference in Monaco and demonstrated their own implementation VISS - Videotex Information Sytem for Salesforce Supports.