A Quantum L(eap)ink in technology

quantum_link_thumbToday, 20 years ago, the doors closed on one of the world’s first online communities: Commodore’s Quantum Link (or Q-Link). In this week’s Friday Commodore, we look back at the history of the network that connected C64s and C128s and which would later become one of the most famous online service providers: America Online (AOL).

Q-Link started on November 5th, 1985 when Commodore saw the potential of online networks after the success of Prodigy, the network built by CBS, Sears and IBM.
Commodore’s execs approached Control Video Corporation (the brainchild of Steve Case, Jim Kimsey and Bill von Meister), which had an online service called GameLine for the Atari 2600 video game console for which subscribers bought a modem from the company for $49.95 and paid a one-time $15 setup fee. It then allowed subscribers to temporarily download games and keep track of high scores, at a cost of $1 per game.

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The CVC team licensed software from PlayNet, Inc and started to create a series of dedicated online services for the C64 and C128 computers under the new name of Quantum, called Q-Link.
Their Q-Link featured electronic mail, online chat, public domain file sharing libraries, online news, and instant messaging. It went on to include online multiplayer games like checkers, chess, backgammon, hangman and a clone of the television game show “Wheel Of Fortune” called ‘Puzzler’.
But perhaps it’s most distinct application was ‘Habitat’ (renamed later to ‘Club Caribe), an interactive graphic resort island in which users controlled on-screen avatars that could chat with other users, carry and use objects and money (called tokens), and travel around the island one screen at a time.
By all accounts, it was a forerunner of today’s popular MMORPGs and it was designed using software that later formed the basis of Lucasfilm’s Maniac Mansion story system (SCUMM).

Habitat_cover

In October, 1986 Quantum Link expanded their services to include casino games such as bingo, slot machines, blackjack and poker in RabbitJack’s Casino and RockLink, a section about rock music. The software archives were also organized into hierarchal folders and were expanded at this time.
In November 1986 the service began offering to digitize users’ photos to be included in their profiles, and also started an online auction service.

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Run Magazine issue 35

Connections to Q-Link were typically made by dial-up and the service was normally open weekday evenings and all day on weekends. Pricing was $9.95 per month.

Q-Link was truly a gem, thanks to its graphic display which was considerably better than many competing systems and BBS-systems because they used a specialized client software that only the Commodore 64 and 128 could run.

However, in 1986 sales of Commodore 64/128 machines started to slow down and Kimsey convinced his partners to become more independent of the hardware vendors (in this case Commodore) and start to open their platform to other vendors as well.
Apple was high on their agenda and in 1987, Apple signed a deal which would lead to the creation of AppleLink. A year later, none other than Steve Wozniak was one of the first users of the online chat on AppleLink.
After AppleLink, in August 1988, PC Link followed, a service for IBM-compatibles and then one year later, Quantum was renamed into America Online.

Quantum continued to supply its services to Commodore right up to November 1st, 1994, when Steve Case announced the discontinuation of Q-Link:

Dear Members,

As you know, QLink was originally launched in November, 1985. In the years that followed you, as our loyal members, have helped us build a unique online community for Commodore computer users. I want to thank each of you for your contribution, your support and your feedback over the years.

The computing industry has changed dramatically since those first days of online communications. Commodore ceased to produce Commodore brand computers in 1993. Sadly, the company has recently closed its doors entirely.
The Commodore computer, once a leader in the industry, has been replaced by faster, more powerful systems. Many software vendors no longer support the Commodore operating system.

Now we find, with great regret, that we simply can no longer support the QLink service. It has become impossible for us to maintain the product up to a standard of quality that we can be proud of. Many of you I’m sure have noticed a diminished level of product quality in the last few months due to these technical limitations. Without technical support from the industry, we are not able to add new services, fix existing problems, or prevent new ones.
Therefore we have made the sad decision to discontinue QLink as of November 1, 1994.

We would like to thank each of you for your long and continued support and, if at all possible, keep you as part of our online community.

If you now have the ability to use America Online (PC-DOS, Windows or Macintosh), we invite you to convert your membership to one of these other systems. For details on what these versions have to offer and the system requirements needed to run them, see the document in this area entitled “Converting to America Online.”

For details on the last month of service for QLink, important dates and billing information, see the document in this area entitled “Your Final Bill.”

We have enjoyed serving you. Thanks again.

Sincerely,
Steve Case

If you want to experience how it was back in the 80s and early 90s to access this service, you can check out some projects that are rebuilding the Q-Link service (code was released under GPL) here:

http://orrtech.us/qlink/index.html
http://www.lyonlabs.org/commodore/qlink/

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One Response to A Quantum L(eap)ink in technology

  1. Thanks for this post. I spent my C=64 youth in Germany and we never became aware of this kind of “BBS” there. So when I saw the “re-imagined” version on “Halt and Catch Fire” I thought they had invented the entire C=64-based online community thing from scratch. I was obviously very wrong.

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