The history of Distel

Distel, the name being an acronym derived from 'Display Electronics ', as far as we know, was the very first PUBLIC free of charge on line database.  The system was designed and installed in the mid 1970's, enabling users with access to a modem to contact Display Electronics 24 Hrs a day, 7 days a week, browse through it's large stocks (very much larger now !!) of electronic low priced and surplus items, and place on-line credit card orders.

The original hardware was based on a DEC PDP11 mini computer, running the RSX operating system with just 5 mb's of hard disk space and 64 Kb of ram !! All the programs were written in a compiled version of Basic, taking about 25 minutes to compile each time a change was made to the program.!

Many  long hours of programming and getting the hardware together was prompted by a huge purchase from The Post Office, (now BT) of around 2000, 300 Baud (yes 300 Baud !) modems. For the nostalgic, the modem was a type 2B (see pic to the right) and consisted of a steel and alloy, mostly 
steel ! "bomb proof" case about the size of two large shoeboxes, weighing in at around 12 kg's (28 Lb.'s). These were sold in those days at 49 Pounds, which was incredibly cheap at the time, and as low cost modems for the home user were just not made or even thought of -  they sold like hot cakes!!

'Post Office' (well before the split to BT) 300 Baud data modem type 2B, shown for size comparison with a current 'state of the art' 56K fax modem sitting on the top left of the case.

Starting with a single dialup connection running at (it seemed fast in those days !) just 300 baud. Over the years Distel was expanded to 8 dialup ports each running upto 9600 baud. The good old DEC PDP11 was upgraded to an 11/73 cpu and eventually hosted 2 gb's of hard disk and 1 mb of memory - the whole system occupying a small air conditioned room !!

At it's peak, Distel would take over 2000 calls per week from all four corners of the World, resulting in many orders and customers who still buy goods from us today. Much to our delight, Distel became part of the curriculum in many educational establishments and was often used to demonstrate the practical uses of computer communications.

We have continued the tradition of Distel via the World Wide Web in the form of our own website www.distel.co.uk and with the ever staggering progression of technology, pioneers like Dave Fisher, (he had the ideas) and John Hodges, (he wrote most of the software) wonder what's next ? 

Postscript: 11/9/2002
If anyone has any information about the history or making of the GPO range of 2A, 2B modems. I would very much like to know.

 

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