Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

What was AOL CDs for?

  1. Nov 4, 2013 #1
    What was exactly AOL CDs for? When I was a kid there were these commercials like this one and there were people selling and giving trial CD's at shopping malls. I never actually understood what they were for because my parents had total control of the only computer that was at home. They decided what to install and what not. I was barely allowed to use it so that's why I know nothing of those times. (Now the roles have changed, now I have total control of their computers and tell them what to install and what not. When they ask me anyway, since they don't use computers that much.)

    So, what they were used for?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 4, 2013 #2


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    They made it easy to sign up - in the days prior to everyone having internet access the AOL CD provided the required software for modem/DSL connections. Some had interesting designs - we had a whole box of them that the kids used to play with.

    Perhaps that's why you remember them - your parents also saved the pretty ones!
  4. Nov 4, 2013 #3


    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    "Going online" in the early days was different than it is now for most people.

    Today, personal computers have Internet-connectivity software built into their operating systems (Windows or Mac OS or whatever). People basically rent a "data pipeline" from their phone or cable-TV company. The phone or cable company provides little or no content itself, but rather, access to content-providers' Web sites. From a software point of view, the connection works the same way regardless of the provider, because the protocols are standardized. You just hook up your DSL or cable modem, connect it to your computer with an Ethernet cable, and away you go.

    In the early days, an online service provider like AOL or CompuServe had "access points" to its central server, that you had to "dial up" via an ordinary phone connection with a modem. You paid for the connection the same as any other phone call. If the access point was out of town (as it was for me) you had to pay by the minute for a long-distance phone call. On your computer, you used the provider's software, which could "talk" to only that provider's access points. You usually installed the software from a CD or a floppy disk. Each provider had its own e-mail system, forums, and collections of content.

    In the beginning, different providers didn't connect to each other at all. If you were on CompuServe, you could send e-mail only to other CompuServe customers. Then they set up e-mail "gateways" to each other, and to the Internet when that started to become popular.
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2013
  5. Nov 4, 2013 #4


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    Prior to AOL and Compuserve, there was uucp, to send news, files, and email between systems via dialup and in some cases, dedicated lines between companies or universities. Usenet and newsgroups were/are implemented on uucp and the internet, although few providers support it. The more common newsgroups can still be accessed via google, and there are some fee based services that provide access to most of the newsgroups although these aren't used much anymore. The newgroups and AOL / Compuserve like bulletin boards have been replaced by internet forums.

    AOL was known for giving out huge numbers of trial floppy disks and later cd-roms, which are useful as coasters for cups and small bowls these days.
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2013
  6. Nov 4, 2013 #5


    User Avatar
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    We used Prodigy for a while - an IBM/Sears collaboration, IIRC.

    And before that there were local BBS systems, many of which would connect once or twice a day to share messages - their own version of News Groups! ... which could travel very long distances. Completely independent of the government or universities. We were doing that in 1986 or so.
  7. Nov 5, 2013 #6
    AOL required proprietary software in order to connect in the early days but a lot of us were able to make our own connection configurations to get around that resource hog.

    If you were any sort of gamer back then, you knew the advantages of having as much memory available as possible in your dos sessions to run your preferred games and went to extreme lengths of editing configuration files in order to enhance your gaming experience.
Share this great discussion with others via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook