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Celebrating 50 Years in Information Technology. 1970 - 2020




Videotex .. (An Internet Forerunner)


In 1986 while working for the Government's Trentham Computer Centre, we took over a 'Videotex' service that had been started by ICL (NZ) Ltd in 1985 for the NZ Travel Agents Association. The system was known as TAARIS (Travel Agents Association Reservation and Information Service) and used ICL's proprietary "Bulletin" software which was based on the Prestel standard but provided many additional facilities such as the ability to run additional software for specific applications, including an email service.

As the one tasked with operational support of the system, we can no longer remember the exact commercial arrangements, but do recall that ICL elected to have us run it on the mainframes at Trentham, and that we would market it and improve on it ourselves as we saw fit. It did end up with several user-clients, but was somewhat expensive and was discontinued before packet switching and the world-wide-web arrived in 1993.

In many respects Videotex was an Internet Service, or looked like and acted like one, however it ran over telephone lines, and each service tended to run on a single supplier's hardware and operating systems. The result was each service was centralized, controlled and everybody got charged, unlike the internet is today which offers mutiple pathways between millions of nodes around the world.



ICL 2980 - Photo by Murray Green (1985)
ICL was always at the forefront of 'new ideas', and the Videotex system was a good fit with the virtual-machine operating systems run by Trentham on its mainframes, to give a 'cloud-service' to its client departments.

Trentham was also the first mainframe site in the country to make use of Fibre-Optic high speed channels. These arrived with the transition to ICL Series 39 mainframes, and meant the usual clusters of thick grey plastic-covered cables under the raised floors, were replaced by a single strand about the thickness of a knitting-needle. When the large IBM and Unisys systems were finally installed on the main machine floor, it looked quite odd to see the mass of thick cables under those machines, but virtually a clear area underneath the ICL's.)

ICL's commercial approach though was rather like that of a university research unit. It tended to put new ideas into the market place before anyone else, but this often back-fired, when good support was not available, and inevitably it was taken over by the Japanese (Fujitsu).


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