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.