CompuServeCompuServe is an Internet service provider that was founded in 1969 as a computer time-sharing service, originally as a way to use the mainframe computers of H&R Block outside business hours. The Columbus, Ohio-based CompuServe drove the initial emergence of the online service industry. In 1979, CompuServe became the first service to offer electronic mail capabilities and technical support to personal computer users. The company broke new ground again in 1980 as the first online service to offer real-time chat online with its CB Simulator. By 1982, CompuServe had formed its Network Services Division to provide wide-area networking capabilities to corporate clients.
CompuServe also led the interactive services industry overseas, entering the international arena in Japan in 1986 with Fujitsu and Nisso Iwai, developing a Japanese-language version of CompuServe called NIFTYSERVE in 1989. In the late 1980s, it was possible to log into CompuServe via worldwide X.25 packet switching networks, but gradully it introduced its own direct dialup access network in many countries, a more economical solution.
In the early years of the 1990s, CompuServe was enormously popular, with hundreds of thousand of users visiting its thousands of moderated forums. Among these were many where hardware and software companies offered customer support. Its initial public was the technical "geek" crowd which migrated over from the Byte Magazine's Bix online service, but over time CompuServe also attracted a broad general public willing to pay $5 to $10 an hour to use its services. In April 1995, CompuServe topped three million members and launched its NetLauncher service, providing WWW access capability via the Spry Mosaic browser. However, the relative "openness" of the Internet posed a challenge to the "closed" CompuServe system. Company after company closed their once busy CompuServe customer support forums to offer customer support directly through company websites. The participants of the discussion forums gradually migrated their conversations to Usenet newsgroups, which were cost-free and unmoderated. This tendency was hastened when in 1995 CompuServe set what privacy advocates argued was a bad precedent by blocking access to sex-oriented newsgroups after being pressured by German prosecutors.
In 1997 America Online, one of CompuServe's long-time rivals, announced its intention to acquire the company. In September 2003 AOL added CompuServe Basic to its Classic and 2000 product lines, possibly in response to reports earlier that year that AOL was losing significant business to low cost competitors.
CompuServe's positioning is now as the value market provider. Recent US versions of the CompuServe client software — essentially an enhanced web browser — use the Gecko layout engine developed for Mozilla, within a derivative of the AOL client and using the AOL dialup network. It is currently in version 7.0. The previous Classic product remains available in the US and in other countries where CompuServe 2000 is not offered, notably the UK and Asia-Pacific region, and is at version 4.0.2.