In 2005, the York University Computer Museum began a reconstruction project
and online collection devoted to the NABU Network. The NABU's public
launch in 1983 marked the creation of the first commercial computer
network to provide high-speed access to information, software, and
digital entertainment directly to homes of personal computer (PC)
users. It was a technologically and culturally significant achievement,
yet the YUCoM project is the first and only historical attempt to analyze
or fully document the NABU Network technology.
Fig 1. NABU Network Adaptor
The NABU Network
The NABU Network was designed and implemented by a Canadian company NABU
Manufacturing between 1981 and 1983. The underlying idea behind the network
was to link home personal computers to cable television networks which would
supply a continuous, high speed stream of computer programs and information
(at the rate of 6.5 Mbits per second) to almost an unlimited number of users.
Cable television was a uniquely ideal technology for NABU to deliver
software and data to home computers because of its high bandwidth and
After the official launch on Ottawa Cablevision in October of 1983,
the NABU Network was introduced by Ottawa's Skyline Cablevision in
1984 and a year later in Sowa, Japan, via a collaboration between NABU
and ASCII Corp. NABU Network subscribers could rent or buy a NABU PC
and dedicated network adaptor, and use an ordinary television set as a
display monitor. Once connected to the network, a user could choose from
various application programs and services in categories including entertainment,
information and guides, education, and professional programs. Dedicated
NABU magazines, newsletters, programming guides, and user groups
provided subscribers with supplementary information and support.
Fig. 2. NABU Network head-end computer
Described as "the most innovative, daring, and least appreciated venture
in the Canadian computer and communications industries" by some (D. Thomas),
and "the `Internet' -- ten years ahead of its time"
(follow this link)),
the NABU Network was an innovative attempt to radically reshape the
principles of personal computer-based public access to information and
entertainment. Financial difficulties lead NABU Network Corp. (formerly
NABU Manufacturing) to close down operations in 1987 but the ideas which
once powered the NABU Network are reemerging in more mature forms backed
by Internet-based technologies.
Fig 3. NABU Network Ad (1984)
Reconstruction and Online Collection
- PH1. The first phase of the project was the collecting of
hardware, software, technical, and historical information about
the NABU Network. The result
of the first phase is a collection of original NABU hardware used by subscribers
and some of the hardware used by NABU developers. The collection also
includes some NABU technical and promotional documentation as well as interviews
with NABU engineers.
- PH2. The purpose of the second phase of the project was to reconstruct and describe
the communication protocol between the NABU PC (NPC) and NABU Adaptor (NA).
The NABU network operated by broadcasting application programs and data
to every authorized subscriber on the cable system from a high-speed
head-end computer (see Figure 2). Authorized subscribers could access information through
their NPCs connected to the cable system via an advanced communications adaptor
NA (see Figure 1). Programs and data were loaded into NPCs memory and processed/executed by users.
NA was continuously receiving the NABU channel and demodualting and digitizing the
signal coming down the cable. On the NPC side, NA was in two-way communication
with the NABU computer. It was responding to NPC's requests for downloading data
programs from the cable. The result of the second phase is a documented
communication protocol between NPC and NA. The knowledge of the protocol allowed
to emulate NA using a standard PC. In this way we can fully communicate with
NPC using a standard PC.
- PH3. The current phase--phase three--is the development of an
operating system for NPC
and of the Main Menu software. Once an original NPC was connected to an NA and
turned on, it requested from NA two software items to be located on the network
and sent to NPC. One was the operating system. The other was the Main Menu
software that allowed a user to navigate the network and to select and download
the selected items.
Can you help?
The original technical literature describing the NABU Network (manuals,
technical reports, schematic diagrams, software listings) constitutes
the primary historical source of information about the network. The success
of the reconstruction project hinges upon having an access to these primary
sources. While YUCoM has collected some of this material, most of the NABU
documents still cannot be located.
YUCoM is actively searching for any information that could help to
locate NABU documentation. We are also interested in any undocumented
information about the network, in personal recollections, newspaper
articles, and other NABU related material.
YUCoM is also looking for volunteers who could join the project. We are
specifically looking for programmers (Z80 assembler) and "vintage" game
designers. If you can help, please contact YUCoM by sending e-mail to
m u s e u m @ c s e . y o r k u . c a