One of the original online services will become just a memory and a dial tone this October. In an E-mail sent Friday to the 200,000 customers of Prodigy Classic and in a statement posted on its Web site, Prodigy Communications Corp. said Prodigy Classic will be discontinued because the company is "unable" to make it year 2000-compliant.
"This retirement is a result of the Prodigy Classic Service's proprietary technology that predates current Internet standards," the Web statement explained. "Due to the limitations of this technology, Prodigy is unable to make the Prodigy Classic Service Y2K compliant."
Shutting down Prodigy Classic was a "tough decision," says a Prodigy spokesman. A year 2000 project to bring the IBM mainframe and S/1 mini-computer systems supporting Prodigy Classic into year 2000 compliance "would have cost millions of dollars," the spokesman notes, and that would have taken away from investments the company wants to make in its Internet-based services. Prodigy Classic customers will be invited to switch to Prodigy Internet once Classic is shut down. To ease the transition, the Classic service will be free until it terminates, the first three months with Prodigy Internet will be at half price, five free E-mail boxes will be provided, and discounted hardware upgrades will be made available.
Prodigy Classic was nationally launched in 1990 by Prodigy Services Co., a joint venture of IBM and Sears, Roebuck and Co. The company struggled as the Web changed the business model for online services. The company was bought out by management in 1996, when Prodigy Internet was launched. Prodigy Internet now has about 400,000 customers.
Prodigy Classic was originally hosted on IBM mainframe and S/1 minicomputers, notes Gary Arlen, president of Arlen Communications Inc., an interactive service consulting firm. It's possible that the old technology is still supporting Prodigy Classic, he says, but that does not mean it cannot be made year 2000-compliant. "My sense is it is an easy excuse to use to move their customers onto their Web-based service," he said, adding that the timing is awkward because the company is in its registration period for an initial public offering.