Home > Computers and Internet > Tech History Marked Today: Pac-Man & NNTP

Tech History Marked Today: Pac-Man & NNTP

22-May-10 01:10 am EDT Leave a comment Go to comments
Google Inc. celebrates the 30th anniversary of the Pac-Man arcade game (on May 21, 2010) by converting the company logo at its search engine web site into a fully-functional Google-shaped Pac-Man game.
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nce upon a time, before there was a world wide web; before cell phones were common; before everyone had an email address; the Internet consisted of but a handful of text-based services, linked not by cable networks to every home — nor by dial-up modems run across conventional phone lines — but through specialized dry copper lines wired into UNIX workstations and servers.  I can recall myself being among the lucky few not in a 3rd-year or later undergrad Computer Science programme at the University of Manitoba who was allowed to have a UNIX network account because I thought it cool I could dial in using my 1200 bps modem from home and simply communicate using the “talk” service with friends I knew at the university who lived elsewhere in the city.  Of course, I quickly discovered I could communicate with a much wider audience than that!

Hosted on the UNIX network were a number of interesting services; e-mail, certainly; but also Gopher (a text-based, menu-driven service to host documents online) and something called “Usenet News” or NNTP.  Usenet had it all….there were networked games (my primary interest) discussed, among thousands of other topics.  At this point in history, playing multiple opponents online was unheard of.  There was NetTrek, VGA Planets, Midgaard MMORPG (text-based also), and my favourite – UNIX Empire.  And all had their own NNTP newsgroups.

As time passed, Usenet newsgroups multiplied in number.  It wasn’t long before NNTP became the favourite place to publish pornographic material it seemed.  Indeed, in a very real way, NNTP ultimately led to the initial media characterizations of the Internet as a smut-infested free-for-all.  NNTP offered a degree of anonymity that the web couldn’t too, so NNTP survived its introduction whereas Gopher disappeared completely.

As the first service to really allow broadcast-style communications on the Internet, Usenet has finally started to disappear as Web-based applications have become both stable and sophisticated enough to take over the job of “content engine”.  This past week, two big announcements in the world of NNTP made it clear it’s on its way out: Microsoft and Duke University are shutting down their public Usernet services.  Make no mistake — it’s the end of an era.

On a happier note, Pac-Man seems to be alive and well (relatively speaking) after 30 years, celebrating its anniversary yesterday.  Google marked the occasion by replacing the company logo on its main search page with a fully-functional Pac-Man game!  The maze was in the shape of the Google logo; and features included a two-player mode accessed by pressing an “Insert coin” button that replaced the usual “I’m lucky” button, which normally takes a user to the 1st search result matched to the keywords entered in the search textbox.

Happy birthday Pac-Man!

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Terry Glavin

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