Michael Aldrich BiographyHistory of ROCCAcknowledgementsFeedbackBack to Aldrich Archive Home

  Internet Online Shopping

  Inventor's Story

  Online Shopping in the 1980s


  E-commerce, E-Business and Online

  What is Videotex?

  Videotex New Generation Terminals

  Videotex Chips

  "Videotex: Key to the Wired City"
        USA Book Review

  "Videotex: Key to the Wired City"
        German Book Review

  I Hate Shopping

  Software Anecdotes

  Emerging Digital and Social Markets
Digital People Power Changes the World

  Online Shopping FAQ's


In about 1970 the BBC had a brainstorming session in which it was decided to start researching ways to send closed captioning information to audience. As the Teledata research continued the BBC became interested in using the system for delivering any sort of information, not just closed captioning. In 1972, the concept was first made public under the new name Ceefax. Meanwhile the General Post Office (soon to become British Telecom) had been researching a similar concept since the late 1960s, known as Viewdata. Unlike Ceefax which was a one-way service carried in the existing TV signal, Viewdata was a two-way system using telephones. Since the Post Office owned the telephones, this was considered to be an excellent way to drive more customers to use the phones. Not to be outdone by the BBC, they also announced their service, under the name Prestel. ITV soon joined the fray with a Ceefax-clone known as ORACLE.

In 1974 all the services agreed a standard for displaying the information. The display would be a simple 40x24 grid of text, with some "graphics characters" for constructing simple graphics. This standard was called CEPT1. The standard did not define the delivery system, so both Viewdata-like and Teledata-like services could at least share the TV-side hardware (which at that point in time was quite expensive). The standard also introduced a new term that covered all such services, teletext. Ceefax first started operation in 1977 with a limited 30 pages, followed quickly by ORACLE and then Prestel in 1979.

Prestel was somewhat popular for a time, but never gained anywhere near the popularity of Ceefax. This was due primarily to its delivering much the same content, yet requiring the user to pay for the terminal (today referred to as a set-top box), a monthly charge, and phone bills on top of that (unlike the US, local calls are paid for in most of Europe). Although Prestel's two-way features (including e-mail) were interesting, the end-users appeared to be unwilling to pay much for such a service, not as much as it cost to run it at least. In the late 1980s the system was re-focused as a provider of financial data, and eventually bought out by the Financial Times in 1994. It continues today in name only, as FT's information service. A closed access videotex system based on the Prestel model was developed by the travel industry, and continues to be almost universally used by travel agents throughout the country.

Using a prototype domestic television equipped with the Prestel chip set, Michael Aldrich of Redifon Computers Ltd demonstrated real-time transaction processing in 1979 and thus invented teleshopping or online shopping as it is now named. From 1980 onwards he designed, sold and installed systems with major UK companies including the world's first travel industry system ,the world's first vehicle locator system for one of the world's largest auto manufacturers and the world's first supermarket system. He wrote a book, Videotex - Key to the Wired City (Quiller Press 1982) about his ideas and systems which among other topics explored a future of teleshopping and teleworking that has proven to be prophetic. Before the IBM PC, Microsoft and the Internet, he invented and manufactured and sold the 'Teleputer', a PC that could receive TV programmes and communicate using its Prestel chip set.

The Teleputer was a range of computers that were suffixed with a number. Only the Teleputer 1 and Teleputer 3 were manufactured and sold. The Teleputer 1 was a very simple device and only worked as a teletext terminal, whereas the Teleputer 3 was a z80 based micro computer. It ran with a pair of single sided 5 1/4 inch floppy disk drive; a 20Mb Hard disk drive version was available towards the end of the product's life. The operating system was CP/M or a proprietary variant CP*, and the unit was supplied with a suite of applications, consisting of a word processor, spreadsheet, database and a semi-compiled basic programming language. The display supplied with the unit (both the Teleputer 1 and 3) was a modified Rediffusion 14 inch portable colour television, with the tuner circuitry removed and being driven by a RGB input. The unit had a 64Kb onboard memory which could be expanded to 128Kb with a plug in card. Graphics were the standard videotext (or teletext) resolution and colour, but a high resolution graphic card was also available. A 75/1200 baud modem was fitted as standard (could also run at 300/300 and 1200/1200), and connected to the telephone via an old style round telephone connector. In addition an IEEE interface card could be fitted. On the back of the unit there was a RS232 and Centronic connections and on the front was the connector for the keyboard. The proposed Teleputer 4 & 5 were planned to have a laser disk attached and would allow the units to control video output on a separate screen.

Source: Wikepedia ‘Videotex’ August 2008

Aldrich also used his videotex systems for purposes other than online shopping. He built management information systems using networking computers and brought interactive terminals into workplaces for the first time in the UK and Eastern Europe particularly for management use.

The Teleputer and Cable systems can be found elsewhere in the archive as can some of the Innovative Information Systems.



Biography                  History of ROCC                  Acknowledgements                  Feedback                  Copyright

© Michael Aldrich 2011