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PLATO (computer system) (wikipedia.org)
55 points by adam 1176 days ago | hide | past | web | 23 comments | favorite



If you're interested in PLATO, stay tuned. I have been working for many years on a book that tells the story of the PLATO system. It's what I am working on full-time at the moment, 7 days a week.

Three years ago I put on a 2-day conference at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the creation of the PLATO system. Videos of all the sessions are available on YouTube at YouTube.com/platohistory.

If you want to know more about the book and what it covers, go to http://friendlyorangeglow.com


Yes, I will buy your book. I hope it is a better replacement for actually participating in PLATO or browsing the Cyber1 archive. Perhaps not the first, but hindsight is sometimes better than being there.


Georgia Tech had a lab of CDC 721 terminals and used PLATO for at least one class. It always felt weirdly futuristic (or Hollywood fake) for a seemingly "dumb" terminal to switch into a graphical touchscreen mode. I wish we'd had some of the more fun stuff running on them, but they were already being overtaken by X-Windows (Sun 3s and Macs with A/UX), Macs, and PCs with a mix of DOS and early Windows.


Yes, I remember taking a Fortran class there in 86 and using those terminals. The touchscreen felt like a plastic membrane over the glass, and gave a little wherever you touched it. What I remember most were the terminal keyboards. The keys were sprung like automotive suspensions, so you had to really hit each key with force to get it to register. When I got home after that quarter my dad yelled at me for pounding the keyboard at home - my typing habits had become almost violent.

I also recall seeing the Plato system being shown off in a display at the Worlds Fair in Knoxville in 1982. I took a peek at the Wikipedia entry for the fair, and it notes that several new technologies were debuted at the fair, include touch screens. Follow the link to touch screens and there's a picture of our friend, the Plato V.


I remember using PLATO at tech, but can't remember what class it was for. Chemistry maybe? Or maybe, strangely, Intro To Psych. The terminals I remember were in the Lyman Hall building, which was also the freshman chemistry lecture/lab building at the time.


I never saw this before. I used to like walking past the old data center in the Rich Building at Georgia Tech. It was hard to imagine what it was like in its hay day with punch cards and all.


I coded on Plato in the mid 80's ("Tudor" language). I was paid minimum wage (about $3.25 per hour), and had various tasks maintaining courseware. I was brianb@udel

What everyone says is true: with the forms of chat and email that were prevalent, and things like the friday afternoon dogfights, the future of massively connected computing became "obvious". Based on what I saw then, I worked in computer networking after graduating from college, moved to silicon valley, and recently founded my own company building high speed distributed databases.

I bought my first computer over Plato: I found a guy in Illinois who had an older Xerox CP/M machine, we agreed to the price over email, I sent him the check and he sent me the machine. This would have been about '83.


An aside on UI: am I the only one who still romanticizes about monochrome yellow/orange/light-blue-green on black line-art interfaces? That second PLATO terminal on the article reminded me of that (kind of like this LCARS screen: http://lcars.org.uk/lcars_files/LCARS%20MSD_Enterprise%20B.g... edit: or this: http://www.lcarscom.net/all_mini_avis.gif)

When I'm on Wikipedia or some tutorial site, I still sometimes imagine myself looking at the same content in a futuristic monochrome view.


You can try out the PLATO system today by getting a signon on http://cyber1.org/

Plasma display technology was invented there.


I remember playing on the PLATO system a few times as a single-digit-year-old. My parents were grad students at UIUC.

There was a game called ANTWAR. You would be shown an army of enemy ants in a rectangle in a certain number of rows and columms. The trick was to multiply the rows and columns and choose the size your army to be exactly one more ant in number.

They don't let kids hang out in datacenters anymore. But kids have more interesting games at home anyway.


As a South African, I'm fascinated to learn that during the 1980s, PLATO was deploying for tertiary-school education, even in discriminated-against (e.g. black, 'coloured') colleges.

It's bizarre to think that in the dying days of apartheid there was already some faction of the government seduced by the promise of third-world techno-utopianism.


Freshman year at UofI I enrolled in a Philosophy course, 108 I think. Mostly liberal arts majors, another engineer and I were in the same study session. The philosophy graduate student TA gets us together for our first study session of the year and walks us through the syllabus.

TA: This semester, we'll be talking about Aristotle, Descartes and Plato. Engineer: We'll we be taking our tests on PLATO? TA: Yes, we will have two midterms and a final and we will cover Plato. Engineer: No, I mean will we be taking all our tests on the PLATO system. TA: I don't know what you mean, but yes, you will be tested on Plato. Engineer: No, I mean. Me: The TA is talking about the philosopher Plato while Mr. Engineer is talking about an online testing computer called PLATO. Rest of class, befuddled, me rolling my eyes.


> games such as Avatar and Empire (a star-trek like game), which had both accumulated more than 1.0 million contact hours on the original PLATO system at UIUC

I hated these dudes. Play on your own time, I gotta do another CircuitTutor unit.


  CDC President William Norris planned to make PLATO a force in the
  computer world, but found marketing the system was not as easy as
  hoped. PLATO nevertheless built a strong following in certain markets, and
  the last production PLATO system did not shut down until 2006,
  *coincidentally* just a month after Norris died.
Emphasis mine. Is that some bitterness I detect? I guess it's a mark in Wikipedia's favor that things like that stand out, but still...


In 1980 there was a PLATO installation at our local University (UWC) in South Africa when I was in high school.

It was used by first year students for some tut work and by high school students from the surrounding area for maths courseware.

It was an interesting experiment and novelty but I don't think it fundamentally changed how the varsity did or approached it's teaching.


Wouldn't this be the real precursor to the internet instead of the often-hyped arpanet? Is TCP/IP really what makes the internet the internet, or sharing ideas and collaborating with abstractions on an electronic network in general?


This is actually why I posted this. It seems PLATO has never gotten its due for the truly revolutionary concepts it introduced. I remember - in the early eighties - playing networked games and participating in tournaments, sending "personal notes" which were emails, participating in discussion forums with people from universities all over the world, taking lessons to augment my schoolwork...There was even instant messaging. All from a PLATO terminal which was made out of wood and metal and connected to the university mainframes at 1200baud.


I dunno about that. I walk by a nice little wall display about it whenever I'm at Siebel.


> Is TCP/IP really what makes the internet the internet

Yes, because the Internet is the Internet because it's a network of networks, all sharing the same protocols, all routing data among each other via gateways using packets. Networks existed before Arpanet, before PLATO, but it wasn't possible to cheaply interconnect networks and send messages end-to-end before TCP/IP.

Removing TCP/IP and the concept of the gateway from what it means to be the Internet doesn't mean PLATO is first. It means some even earlier computer network is first, and PLATO is still a footnote in the history of the Internet.


That's a great response had it been to a slightly different comment... But what I think you're trying to say is that the gateway (IGD) allowed the internet to grow much faster than PLATO was capable of and that growth is part of the character that defines what the internet is.


I'm saying that the Internet is defined by being an internet. An internet is a network composed of multiple independent networks with independent low-level protocols which share data using a higher-level protocol suite. The higher-level protocol suite for the Internet is TCP/IP, so, yes, TCP/IP defines the Internet.


posting wikipedia articles isn't news


Hacker News is only 'news' in the Usenet news sense of the term.




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