Software

Celebrating 20 years of ZDNet, and my first Internet address

ZDNet just turned 20 years old. Learn how it got started, hear about its rivalry and merger with CNET, and learn how it's related to the story of my first Internet address.

What do ZDNet's 20th anniversary and my first Internet account have in common? CompuServe.

TechRepublic's sister site ZDNet just turned 20 years old. For those of you who have been part of the technology world for at least a couple decades, you are probably scratching your heads at that number because the Web has only been around as a popular phenomenon since 1993-1994 when Web browsers Mosaic and Netscape Navigator were created.

However, the precursors to the Web were bulletin boards and private services -- both of which users connected to with their dial-up modems. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the biggest and most well-known of those services was CompuServe, which provided moderated forums, e-mail, and some early forms of electronic news and information. On April 1, 1991, Ziff-Net (the precursor of ZDNet) launched on CompuServe, after signing a deal to bring some of the articles from its fleet of computer magazines to CompuServe's electronic bulletin boards. Ziff-Net was later launched on the Prodigy network as well in a similar format.

Coincidentally, 1991 was also the year that I saved up and bought my own computer, joined CompuServe, and got my very first email address. Back then, CompuServe email addresses were numbers (mimicking phone numbers) and mine was something like 76543.2100@compuserve.com. I was a senior in high school and I only knew one other person on the planet with an email address -- my uncle at NASA. I don't really remember anything that we emailed about except that he eventually told me about the next cool thing called the World Wide Web and encouraged me to get a copy of Mosaic from the University of Illinois so that I could try it out.

To hear about how ZDNet got its start, its rivalry and eventual merger with CNET, its early embrace of blogging, and where it's headed in the future, take a look at this five-minute video that includes interviews with some of ZDNet's early pioneers.

About

Jason Hiner is the Global Editor in Chief of TechRepublic and Global Long Form Editor of ZDNet. He is an award-winning journalist who writes about the people, products, and ideas that are revolutionizing the ways we live and work in the 21st century.

26 comments
ltcwells2
ltcwells2

Been a member since 1996! Went through the ZDNET - CNET battle and struggled with it. Glad about both adn still use both in my daily IT career.

pfyearwood
pfyearwood

My first Windows computer was a TRS-1000, the size of a Vic-20 hooked up to a TV. It was also the computer that taught me to be sure the unit is unplugged before messing with the motherboard. Oh, and the 300Bd modem. I read all the mags. My favorite at the time was Computer Shopper. It had lots of columns about all forms of computing: Commadore, Atari, and other that I forget. It had lots of nifty ads. Like, send in a sample of your handwriting and they would make a custom font. (If your script was like mine, you did not want it on your computer. That was why you had a computer.) I remember a device that hooked up to your VCR for backing up your files. Set it up and it would have your backup ready by morning. Paul

bbbaldie_z
bbbaldie_z

I have a big zipfile full of ZDNet utilities from the late 80's/early 90's. That 5 1/4" floppy that came with the magazine was the coolest thing ever. The utilities were sweet little DOS programs, most with a .com extension, that would do little things very well. They were coded efficiently, a practice I've long admired and still try to do myself.

Ian Wright
Ian Wright

Pre-Compuserve, how about Fido BBS systems, 1200/75 modems then the mind-blowing 2400 ones, the Hayes command set, hey, I even had an acoustic coupler at one point. I set up a neat little BBS system running on an Apple IIe then we invested heavily and set up a Mac based First Class system, all talking to the world via a 2400 baud modem. First Class was pretty awesome with its interface, folder structure etc., particularly considering what the other options were (or weren't). And there was Byte and my favourite bit, Jerry Pournelle's Chaos Manor. I was in envy hell reading about all the gear companies gave him to test. Strewth, really feeling my age now.

adornoe
adornoe

out there. As an example, back in the early 80s, I worked at a bank in New York which developed an on-line banking system which used Ataris connected via a 300 baud modem, to allow people to do their banking from home (as long as it didn't involve a cash transaction). There was no GUI, but, the system worked quite well. And, most of it was written in COBOL..

msdamico
msdamico

I remember the good old days when I had to dial into each company separately to download drivers and software updates via my extremely fast Hayes 1200 modem.

frank_s
frank_s

I got my first internet address by joining PC Magnet, which was free and used Compuserve (so you got a Compuserve email address). I believe PC Magnet was the precursor to Ziff net. If you knew, you could sign on to PC Magnet and then type "go cis" which got you to most of Compuserve. I remember buying a Hayes 1200 baud modem (which was the cream of the crop at the time) for $300+.

oeflynn
oeflynn

Things have changed more than I realised - I thouht back then it was called 'Internet'. When did they change the name form 'Interent' to 'Internet'? Okay - I am just being factious - you have a spelling mistake in the title of the article.

JCAlexandres
JCAlexandres

I remember ZDNet from the 90's, but don't remember ever seeing a misspelled article header going out. You may need an eye exam! hehehe, peace!

jtarrier
jtarrier

Hi Jason, You sure took me back in time with this article. I too was on Compuserv, sitting there with my old 4800 baud modem, upgrading to the new lightning fast 9600 baud so I could download an email in about 2 minutes. After reading email it was time for some online study with SmartPlanet aka ZD-U. Thanks for the memories! - Jeremy

rikarius
rikarius

I remember CompuServe. What I remember most was it cost $6 US and hour. It would take about 4 hours to fill a floppy disc.(Remember those? :) Connection speed was 300 baud. They had a game called air traffic controller I played on my Apple IIe which was a screen of little dots that moved very slowly. Ahh the good ole days. I remember AOL being around but I don't think they came in until later, if memory serves online bulletin boards first then came Compuserve, and Prodigy.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I also remember [trying to] dump AOL when I got reassigned back overseas. What I remember most about the early days of the web was that, possibly in an attempt to appear useful, sites like ZiffNet/ZDNet and PCMag.com actually published real news about emerging tech.

JaredH
JaredH

Wow! I have not heard the name CompuServe in a very very long time. I like to think of CompuServe as an online service more than just an electronic forums and bulletin boards. They did have much of their own content. Other major Online Service Providers were AOL and Prodigy. As the WWW become more and more popular, the online service providers started dying off, because basically, their content was moving to the Web. Prodigy, dumped their content and later just became a big Nation wide dial up ISP. AOL and CompuServe battled it out and if I remember correctly, AOL ended up buying CompuServe and kept the CompuServe name as it's "business online service" vs the AOL brand as the consumer or personal online service. Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

rms
rms

Congratulations Jason!...(Interent?...guess Internet or maybe at that time it had another name :)]

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

way-back-when, we used to be able to write on-the-fly software including DOS calls in ASM. Tight and screaming-fast. (Edit: Five miles ... barefoot ... in the snow ... uphill ... both ways) ;-) Remember using POKE in BASIC at B800:xxxx (CGA) or B000:xxxx (MDA)? And you had to check the retrace register on the CGA (0x3DA, bit 0) if you didn't want "sparkle" on the monitor? And of course for MFM drive controllers, the infamous DEBUG command "g =C800:5" to start a low-level format. I think that was one of the early ZD utilities too.

gtrapp
gtrapp

Jerry Pournelle was the 1st thing I always read. Here was Mr. Cool Insider. My 1st computer was a TRS-80 and I wrote an AR system on it. Had to send my customer file to a casette tape to save billing information. Very nice as you could recycle old Customer backups with the latest Top 40 songs and they sounded great. I remember the BBS boards. Best thing was that there were no trolls or spam - only people wanting to help solve problems or share their latest tech discovery.

Sterling chip Camden
Sterling chip Camden

I was doing remote consulting work over a modem for years before the web became available. Nobody even had an internet email address back then. You actually had to call them on the phone to talk.

jasonhiner
jasonhiner

it became my primary source for breaking news of all kinds -- tech, sports, international news, politics, etc. (mostly Associated Press articles). I remember feeling like I was really on the cutting edge because I could read stories electronically a day before they'd appear in the newspapers. :-)

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

I remember especially the free utility programs from PC Magazine, as well as ZDNet. Made using DOS/Win3.1 a bit more pleasant. I probably still have a large collection of PCMag Utilitites on my old Pentium 166...and yes, it still boots up...when I use it now I primarily boot into plain old DOS, load up a RAMDisk driver, and off we go. As to AOHell, errr, AOL, I still have my AOL email addresses from like 16 years ago...my CompuServe address went away sometime around 1997. Sometimes I miss the old ways, the BBSes, the forums...the blazing speed of a 2400 BAUD modem compared to the old 300 I had!

cmonk
cmonk

I think it was called Interent before they had their own space and they had to rent it from the DARPA. That was back in the days just before Al Gore invented the Internet which then allowed them to have their own InterNET address.

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

Remember Jesse Berst? I was a subscriber to "Berst Alerts"...lots of discussions posted via Lynx 386 for DOS, dialed up over a 14400 modem, or using Arachne for DOS...which I did a couple months ago here at TR just for fun! But at 33.6 and not 14.4, hehe

JCitizen
JCitizen

Yeah! And WOW that 1200 baud was lightning fast! HA! It surely was exciting times! I wonder if these kids getting their first smart phones/table PC can get that same feeling? Maybe with 4G 3D without glasses? I don't know - I guess it will never be quite as emotional and revolutionary as it was then - to me at least.

JCitizen
JCitizen

when I received it with a protocol translator called SCOM. I could see the future in that one, but I just couldn't afford the subscription fees as a lowly corporal in the Army. We did have our own little private internet for state employees over an 800 number, where we could communicate using Xerox memory writers. By the time I did actually get on the present day internet, the idea of it evaporated!

oldbaritone
oldbaritone

I had a 2nd phone line in my first apartment, the BBS line. NorthStar CP/M with two DS/DD floppies (5 1/4" 10 hard sector floppies - remember them?) and a homebrew power control tied to "Carrier Detect" so that when someone called the BBS, the computer booted up. That only took about 10 seconds in those days. :-) ANSI control characters, so the login prompt was in color. (Of course, if you didn't load ANSI.SYS, you got uninteligible garbage... but EVERY serious BBSer had ANSI.SYS loaded!) And I remember the day my college buddy brought his Heath H89 over, and we connected the two together using XMODEM on a serial cable at 9600 baud. WOW! Blazing hyperspeed. We couldn't believe it.

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