Caught in the Micronet

Micronet 800

Some things in life seem lost in the mists of time, but since I returned to my roots by taking up retrocomputing a few years ago, so many fond memories have come back to me, often with a feeling of regret that the subject of those memories is no longer with us.  One such subject is Micronet 800 – and my own active involvement in that much-loved and much-missed online system, as a co-editor of one particular section – 16/32.

For those who have never heard of it, Micronet 800 was an early online information provider on Prestel, British Telecom’s interactive Viewdata system, which, beloved as it was by travel agencies and public libraries, was in many ways Britain’s web before the World Wide Web.  Micronet 800, which was provided by Telemap Group, a part of EMAP, was aimed at the 1980s personal computer market, and was an online ‘electronic magazine’ that gave subscribers computer related news, reviews, general subject articles and downloadable ‘telesoftware.

It coexisted with dozens of independent and mostly free text-based ‘bulletin board’ systems which were dotted about the country.  But unlike these boards, Prestel and therefore Micronet 800 was usually available at local call rates – in the days before cheap telephone calls and broadband internet!


Users would log onto the Prestel network and enter the Micronet 800 home page by entering *800# (hence the name) on their modem or computer. Most Micronet 800 members would have their default main index page set to page 800 automatically.  The Prestel system used an asymmetric 1200/75 system – 1200 baud download speed, 75 baud upload.  As there was no high resolution graphic content on Prestel (it was all done in text and special characters, the display was just 24 lines of 40 characters, with seven colours and very simple block graphics), the slow data rates mattered little.

By May 1986, I had become an Atari 520STFM user (I later also owned the original 520ST), and my enthusiasm was such for this wonderful computer (the poor man’s Macintosh!) and online communications, that I decided I wanted to give something back to the Atari community, and so I decided to offer my services in editing on Micronet 800.  And so it was that, with my assistance, a whole new area for ST users began to open up on Prestel.

16/32 Micronet Directory Entry, from members magazine Logon, issue 12, Summer 1990

Continue reading Caught in the Micronet


Legendary Oliver Twins to appear at Play Blackpool

Philip and Andrew Oliver with games old and new, Dizzy and SkySaga (Pic: The Oliver Twins/Radiant Worlds)
Philip and Andrew Oliver with games old and new, Dizzy and SkySaga (Pic: The Oliver Twins/Radiant Worlds)

Great news for anyone heading for the PLAY arcade, indie and retro gaming show at Blackpool next month is that they’ll get the chance to hear and meet that dynamic duo of retro and modern gaming, legendary British programmers and businessmen the Oliver Twins.

Not only is Andrew Oliver going to be on hand to talk about the forthcoming game SkySaga from the twins’ own current company, Radiant Worlds, but the latest news is that he will now be joined by his brother Philip.

The popular and wide-ranging event features the first public UK preview of SkySaga, which looks to be a hit in the making, but most importantly for retro fans is that Andrew and Philip will be giving two talks on the Saturday at 1pm and 3pm, the first being a nostalgic glance back at their past games and their remarkable life programming in their bedrooms in the 1980s!

The second, bringing their long and successful careers into perspective, will focus on their important new project, SkySaga: Infinite Isles (definitely not a bedroom job!), and some of the production team from Radiant Worlds will be there, offering show attendees the chance to play the game in the exhibition hall itself.

Andrew and Philip became British gaming legends as ‘The Oliver Twins’ in the 1980s when they developed, amongst other hugely popular series, the equally legendary (and still very popular amongst retro gamers)  Dizzy adventures and the Simulator games, which were published by Codemasters.

PLAY Blackpool

Retro fans and new gamers alike will also have the chance to get their collectables signed by the twins – reason enough to beat a path to the Norbreck Castle Exhibition Centre for what looks set to be another great PLAY expo.

So don’t forget to bring your Dizzy games and other items for the Oliver Twins to autograph!

Continue reading Legendary Oliver Twins to appear at Play Blackpool

Project Odyssey is a smash for computer museum

Jason Fitzpatrick shows off rows of BBC Micros's and Raspberry Pi's at Gadget Show Live (Pic: Stuart Williams, RCN)
Jason Fitzpatrick shows off rows of BBC Micros’s and Raspberry Pi’s at Gadget Show Live (Pic: Stuart Williams, RCN)

The Centre for Computing History, the popular and fast-growing museum in Cambridge, England, is popping the corks in celebration following the massive success of their recent ‘Project Odyssey’ fundraising campaign!

The first stage of the project was launched on 10 March by museum patron Dr Hermann Hauser (of Acorn fame) and is now finished, having raised £100,000. What’s more, as this figure was reached within 30 days, it will now be matched by the generosity of Cambridge-based Redgate Software, bringing the total amount to a staggering £200,000!

The aim was to raise £110,000 to complete the refurbishment of the Centre’s main gallery and create a new core exhibition – ‘Tech Odyssey’ – which will chart the global impact of the computing revolution.

Computing education is fun - retro or otherwise! (Pic: Stuart Williams, RCN)
Computing education is fun – retro or otherwise! (Pic: Stuart Williams, RCN)

Continue reading Project Odyssey is a smash for computer museum

Our Facebook page is moving!

Retro Computing News new Facebook page

RETRO COMPUTING NEWS is moving – to a new Facebook page!

The new page has been named ‘Retro Computing News’ alongside this renamed online magazine and Twitter feed.  It’s all part of our reboot.

A new page had to be set up because Facebook wouldn’t allow the renaming of the original page.

All future RETRO COMPUTING NEWS magazine posts, retweets via our Twitter feed and Shared posts from other relevant pages we follow on Facebook will be redirected to the new page, as of from now.  Of course you can still subscribe to our regular magazine posts via this website using the FOLLOW button on the right of this page.

Twitter and Facebook are also additional places where you are very welcome to interact with RETRO COMPUTING NEWS, apart from emailing us.  You can also communicate with our other readers and followers there – it’s all part of the community we like to encourage.

All our readers, present and future, are therefore invited to click on the following link and please Like the new page, as it’s part of the future of Retro Computing News. I know this will take time as not everyone will spot this right away.

If you’re not so much into Facebook, why not follow us on Twitter instead? See the column on the right for details and recent posts there.

Thanks in advance for your help!

Please see:

Stuart Williams

Editor & Publisher


Booting up…

Booting Up

As part of our ongoing reboot following the hiatus late last year, today we are changing the name of this magazine slightly – from the mouthful that was Retrocomputing News to the more byte-size Retro Computing News.  This might not seem much difference, but it allows us to work in in a slight change of emphasis while making the title a little easier to read.

The site’s masthead has been tweaked slightly to reflect a broadening of coverage which has become pretty much essential to enable us to increase the flow of news from now on, and to reflect topics of broader interest to retro and other computer enthusiasts.   This will also be seen in our Twitter and Facebook output.

Moving forward, we’re aiming to cover old-school home computing and collecting, computing history, retro gaming (now including classic consoles),  and more broadly, computer languages, programming (coding!), classic software and abandonware, emulation hardware and software (especially the popular Raspberry Pi, direct descendant of and spiritual heir to the BBC Micro), literary/tv/movie science fiction, events – and of course one of our top priorities, supporting computer museums in the UK and beyond.

RCN Header Revised

As our new subheading says – ‘computer history, gaming and computing today’!

Continue reading Booting up…

Still time to donate to Project Odyssey

Curator Jason Fitzpatrick, left, with Simon Galbraith of Redgate Software (pic: Centre for Computing History)
Curator Jason Fitzpatrick, left, with Simon Galbraith of Redgate Software (pic: Centre for Computing History)

One of the UK’s top computer museums has almost reached the destination of its latest fundraising effort – but you can still contribute if you donate by 10 April 2015!

Following presentations from the museum’s trustees and the launch of the new fundraising campaign – Odyssey – by museum patron Dr Hermann Hauser on 10 March by the Centre for Computing History in Cambridge, England, Simon Galbraith, CEO of Redgate Software (pictured above), threw down “a symbolic gauntlet” – and the response so far has been, according to the museum, “wonderful”.

Back in March the invited audience held their breath as Simon issued the challenge: “Redgate Software will match every pound donated to this appeal, up to £100,000, in the next 30 days.”

What’s the campaign all about? Well, the Centre is hoping to raise £110,000 to complete the refurbishment of its main gallery and create a new core exhibition – Tech Odyssey: a learning adventure – which will chart the global impact of the computing revolution.

Curator, Jason Fitzpatrick, explains: “In its present condition this building fails to do justice to the richness and variety of our collection. Although visitors can see, touch and use many of the ‘superstar’ machines of the 70s, 80s and 90s, we lack the funds needed to create an exhibition that charts how each of these computers represents a step towards the small, powerful, multi-purpose devices most of us use today.

(pic: Centre for Computing History)
(pic: Centre for Computing History)

“Refurbishment of the gallery and creation of a new exhibition, Odyssey, will help us tell the inspirational and epic story of the computing revolution to anyone – young and old, techie and non-geek alike.

Continue reading Still time to donate to Project Odyssey

Join the club – at The National Museum of Computing!

Margaret Sale (pic: TNMOC)
Margaret Sale (pic: TNMOC)

Anyone with an interest in computing history can join a new club at The National Museum of Computing (TNMOC) at Bletchley Park, to develop their passion and support the ongoing development of one of the great computing museums of the world.

Margaret Sale, with an extraordinary computer heritage background as a TNMOC trustee, founder member of the Save Bletchley Park Campaign of the 1990s, and wife of the late Tony Sale who led the Colossus Rebuild team, has agreed to become the Club’s first president providing a link from the past to the present.

To launch the new club, an inaugural Members’ Open Day and Annual General Meeting was held on Saturday 28 March 2015.

Chairman (elect) of the TNMOC Club, John Linford, said: “The TNMOC Club aims to support the important work of the museum and provide an engaging programme for people of all ages who are interested in computer history. The club will arrange technical and social events for members as well as offering on-line facilities, which are essential as we have members all over the world.

“We are delighted that Margaret Sale has agreed to become our first President. Margaret has been involved with the museum since its inception. Her enthusiasm for and knowledge of the early days of computing are infectious.”

Margaret Sale said: “It’s a great honour to be asked to be the first President of the TNMOC Club. I plan to be very active in its support as I fully understand just how important the role of committed supporters has and will be in helping the Museum to continue to grow.”

Tim Reynolds, Chairman of TNMOC, said: “The Trustees really appreciate this initiative and are happy to support this Club. It’s been a revelation to watch the growing interest in computing heritage while I have been associated with the Museum and I have no doubt that this community initiative will be a very important facet of our fast-developing Museum.”

Member benefits include a season ticket to the Museum, a regular newsletter InSync, a Yahoo Group to contact other members, shop, lecture and room-booking discounts.

All existing TNMOC members will automatically become members of the new club which is a separate entity to the TNMOC Volunteers’ Association.

If you would like to join or find out more about the Club, please go to or email

Continue reading Join the club – at The National Museum of Computing!