PARIS, June 29 (UPI) -- Minitel, a soon-to-close precursor to the Internet, is being given a fond, final adieu in France this month from experts and customers.
"I was astounded that you could book your train tickets on the Minitel and plane tickets. Where I come from in Ireland, nothing like that existed, so it was certainly a surprise that this small little box could do so much," said author Marie Carpenter, who teaches at France's telecoms management school and wrote a book about the early days of the first successful home-based data exchange system.
The system called Minitel worked in France because state monopoly France Telecom gave away the terminals for free, after which consumers paid for hours of service, France 24 reported Friday.
The system peaked at 20 million users per day in the 1990s. Minitel could be used for banking, buying tickets, school reports and even pornography.
Quaint by modern standards, the Minitel had a sex chat service nicknamed "Minitel Rose."
"To sign up for university, to check exam results, we can remember the family around the Minitel checking if the cousin has succeeded in the baccalaureat," Radio France International quoted Carpenter as saying.
"They were the first online services and I think they helped the French industry of digital content and services to move towards the Internet," said Karin Lefevre, a spokeswoman for France Telecom/Orange, the successor of France Telecom.
The Minitel system is slated to close on June 30, having been overtaken by the far more versatile Internet.
In its last year, only 400,000 users per day signed on to Minitel.
"It's a symbol of a generation in a way and a symbol of the way that many people made their first steps online," Lefevre said.
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