19 Years Online

I read a good article recently about the death and possible (partial) resurrection of the Prodigy Online Service.

It got me in a nostalgic frame of mind because when I first got a PC capable of online access, Prodigy was the first service I tried. This was in early 1996 so I have been online for 19 years.

Prodigy (or P* as it was known to the insiders) predated the World Wide Web as we know it today. So did its principal competitors – Compuserve and AOL. Prodigy had its own proprietary protocol (not TCP/IP but NAPLPS,) its own server network and special client software you installed on your PC. It was sort of a parallel Internet at the time. Later on Prodigy developed a special browser so you could venture out into the WWW, but most of its content remained closed inside the NAPLPS cyberdomain.

To access P* you needed an account (which charged you by the minute) and a PC equipped with a dial-up modem. My first computer had a blazingly fast 14.4 Kbit browser. My current broadband speed is about 2500 times as fast as that and it really isn’t a speedburner compared to the FIOS connections out there.

Of course, the PC I had then would never have been able to handle those current speeds anyway. It was a Packard Bell desktop with a 100 MHz Pentium processor, 4 Megs of RAM and a 1 GB hard drive. I have 16 times as much RAM in my current desktop as I did hard drive space back then!

Needless to say I didn’t do a lot of digital photography or YouTube video in 1996. I hung out in mostly text based forums such as P*’s “Canada and Friends” and also the chat rooms for real time action. Prodigy provided some rather lame graphics to go along with it. Sounds wonderful, right? Right. To keep costs under control you could sign on, download your messages from your favorite forum and read them offline. Even I find it hard to believe I actually did this 19 years ago!

However the presence of information online revolutionized my work and leisure life. In 1995 I planned a trip to London and to see what shows were playing in the West End I had to buy a week old copy of The Telegraph. In 1996 I planned another trip and when it came to London Theater, I just looked it up online. We take online access for granted today but it was quite an information upgrade when it happened.

Sadly, Prodigy could not compete with the burgeoning Web and disappeared from Canada in 1998. In 1999 (citing possible Y2K issues with its aging technology) the venerable Prodigy Classic service disappeared from the online scene completely. Only a standard Prodigy Internet Service Provider remained and it’s gone today. I believe it was part of Yahoo for a while but you won’t find Prodigy as an ISP today.

Canada and Friends migrated its P* community to Delphi Forums and is still going today, after 20+ years.

19 years online and in terms of performance and activity it seems a Millennium away.

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