Tuesday, June 30, 2009

CompuServe Classic: So Long, Old Friend

No, your monitor won't blank out, your Internet connection won't stall and your PC won't crash, but a major event is about to ripple across the Internet today: CompuServe Classic is closing.

After 30 years the plug will be pulled on what was once the finest online service on the globe. (CompuServe 2000, a newer iteration of CompuServe will continue.)

And the saddest part is that it ends not with a bang, but with a whimper. Ask anyone about CompuServe today and the response will probably be "Are they still around?"

And that's not fair for a service that once meant so much to cyberspace--long before we started calling it cyberspace. It dates to a time when most home PCs didn't even have hard disks, just floppy disk drives, and when most PC users never went online.

CompuServe, the corporate entity, dates to 1969 but the CompuServe Classic online service for consumers debuted in 1979. In 1987 it was the flagship of online services with 380,000 users. A 1991 TV commercial trumpets CompuServe as the only online service with more than a half-million members.

Unfortunately time, and its acquisition by AOL, has not been kind to CompuServe. In recent years it has barely been marketed. Its Web site looks like a throwback to the (gasp!) 20th century. The "build" date on version 4.0.2 of CompuServe for Windows NT, the latest version of the access software for CompuServe Classic, is January 11, 1999.

CompuServe Classic's demise will come six years to the day after MCI Mail, another once-dominant online service, went dark. The text-only service had a Spartan interface but was terribly reliable. Many major corporations used it as their default e-mail service.

CompuServe Classic was home to forums for every profession and special interest imaginable. For example, the old Journalism Forum attracted journalists from around the world and was a hotbed for some of the most lively flaming sessions (that means trading insults, young folks) as well as many intelligent debates.

CompuServe Classic introduced many of us cyberdinosaurs to services we now take for granted.

Online shopping? Stock quotes? Worldwide weather forecasts? CompuServe was providing all of that in the 1980s. Who needs color graphics, music and streaming videos? CompuServe could provide users with what they needed with plain text on a slow dial-up connection.

Today there's Orbitz, Expedia, Travelocity and dozens of other travel sites on the Web, but in the 1980s it was the American Airlines EAASY SABRE service on CompuServe that introduced many of us to online airline ticket booking.

I still remember the joy of watching those first characters crawl slowly across the screen of my Tandy 100 laptop at 300 baud when I opened my CompuServe account in December 1985. How slow is that? Most of us can type faster than a 300-baud connection can send characters.

Even as newer services like America Online began to attract more users and overtake it, CompuServe managed to maintain an air of dignity. Its forums were more professional, its users were more cyber-savvy and the depth of its services and software libraries were far deeper than those of other services.

For example, when AOL started offering unlimited dial-up access in 1996, it didn't have enough modems in service to keep up with the spike in traffic. The result? Constant busy signals. Some users would go to sleep with their AOL connections on so they would have access to it in the morning.

CompuServe, on the other hand, always had the data capacity it needed. AOL's woes led to a memorable CompuServe TV commercial which ended with the punch line: "CompuServe: Get On with It." That bit of cockiness was short-lived, however, as AOL absorbed CompuServe in 1997.

So who will care when when CompuServe Classic goes dark today? I will as I retire my 23-year-old user ID : 72407,3343.

So long, old friend. And thanks.

NOTE: If you're a CompuServe Classic member and you haven't converted your e-mail address to the new system, put this blog down and do it now. You won't be able to do so after today.

Copyright 2009 Stadium Circle Features

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Jitterbug J: Phone for Seniors Graduates

Just days after some Jitterbug phones were recalled due to a problem with making some 911 calls, Great Call Inc. is back with the Jitterbug J, its newest easy-to-use phone for older adults.

Jitterbug and Samsung recalled some phones sold after March 1, 2008 after they had problems making 911 calls when outside of Jitterbug's network. The problem is being repaired with a software patch.

The new Jitterbug J is sleeker, but still simple and has none of the 911 problems.

For more information, see my piece on the PC World Web site: Jitterbug J: Keeping it Simple

Copyright 2009 Stadium Circle Features