The MiniMit Wi-Fi Modem Looks to Breathe Fresh Life Into Vintage French Minitel Terminals

Despite its closure in 2012, Minitel still has its fans — and this compact little box delights by bringing original terminals back to life.

Gareth Halfacree
10 months agoRetro Tech / Communication

Minitel, the videotex information retrieval service which was the world's most popular online service before the World Wide Web came along, is due to live a new life — 41 years after its launch — thanks to a smart Wi-Fi adapter for vintage terminals dubbed the MiniMit.

"Do you know the Minitel? This very French computer pioneering online services? Well, this is about reviving it," writes MiniMit project co-founder Pascale Moise of his creation, built in partnership with Cécile Adam. "It's quite simple: you just have to plug a mini-Minitel specially designed [into] the real Minitel [terminal] (that you have kept or that you can get on Ebay probably) and turn it on."

Designed in 1978 by the French Postes, Télégraphes, et Téléphones organization, Minitel was a terminal-based videotex service which connected businesses and citizens across the country to information retrieval services over the telephone network. Following its launch in 1982, the Minitel — officially branded TELETEL — network would grow to millions of users, thanks in no small part to a decision to deliver many terminals to users for free with a view to recouping the cost on access charges.

By the time of its retirement in 2012 — thirty years after launch, and with millions monthly connections still — the network had grown to offer everything from telephone directory lookups and mail-order services to database searches, online dating, and even interactive games. Its popularity, in fact, is used to explain why the nascent World Wide Web was so slow to catch on in the country — given that its citizens were already well-used to a proven and stable service which offered much of the same functionality.

For those millions who were cut off by France Télécom a decade ago, the MiniMit offers hope: just connect your genuine Minitel terminal to the Espressif ESP32-based MiniMit, and it'll replace the shut-down servers and plain-old telephone system with a Wi-Fi connection to modern equivalents. "This mini-Minitel will contain a dozen old services," Moise promises, "the phone directory, games, astrology, news, the famous 3615 ULLA (in the form of a chatbot using the famous Eliza programme developed in the 1960s by Joseph Weizenbaum)… It's a real return to the '80s."

The MiniMit is currently crowdfunding on Ulule, priced at €75 (around $82) — though you'll have to supply your own Minitel terminal to use it.

Main article image courtesy of Coline Sentenac.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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