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The Minitel

IN August of 1988 Telecom Eireann (as it was) launched a new product that was going to take Irelandto the forefront of Information Technology. It wasthe cutting edge of computerisation.

The Minitel had come to Ireland. Standing just 10 inches tall, with a black and white screen and made from a tough plastic, the Minitel looked like a vertically challenged computer. It had a front cover, hinged on the bottom, that protected the screen when closed, but when opened, acted as the keyboard.

If you hooked it up to your phone line, you could book a ticket in your local cinema with it, look up train and bus times, check your stocks and shares or even get an up-to-the-minute bank statementon screen.

France Telecom, which had originally developed Minitel as an alternative to printing and distributing telephone directories, had seen it blossom across the French state. The first three minutes online were free, the minutes after were charged for at premium rates.

Telecom Eireann had a vision of a Minitel in every home in Ireland and the great and the good were queueing up to offer their services through this magic box. Quinnsworth, AIB and even Mike Murphy, the television entertainer, got a consortium together to invest in it.

In communications, as in comedy, timing is everything and the Minitel was certainly no exception. The launch in Ireland came just as computers were becoming a viable tool for small businesses and with that, the inexorable spread of the internet.

The tiny screen with its green teletext type writing was no match for the new websites with pictures that could download in mere minutes! By 1998 Telecom Eireann had started to offer free replacements for anyone who reported a fault, as it was cheaper than fixing them.

By now the Minitel was about as fashionable as a toupee in a disco and Telecom Eireann continued the service until the end of the millennium only reluctantly. Occasionally stumbled upon by nosey children in dusty attics,the Minitel remains a cringingly embarrassing phase in Ireland's technological boom.

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