next previous home

Lotus Notes and Other PLATO Progeny

As an educational/multimedia system, PLATO has many offspring. Its most successful direct descendant is TenCORE, a Windows-based authoring system. Macromedia's Authorware, an authoring system for the Macintosh and Windows, is also firmly rooted in PLATO.

As a communication system, PLATO has numerous other descendants. Many people who experienced the on-line PLATO community were inspired to replicate it on other platforms.

Lotus Notes is the best-known example. It was developed by Ray Ozzie, Tim Halvorsen, and Len Kawell, all of whom had worked at CERL in the late 1970's. It would be an exaggeration to call Lotus Notes a clone of PLATO Notes, because Ozzie expanded the concept to include powerful capabilities that were never contemplated for PLATO. But many of its basic features were modeled after PLATO Notes.

Here are a few other descendants of PLATO Notes:

  • DEC Notes (previously called VAX Notes), a product of Digital Equipment Corporation originally written by Len Kawell. It is widely used on DEC's EASYnet and on Starlink.

  • NetNotes, a client-server conferencing system designed as an improvement on DEC Notes. It is a product of OS TECHnologies Corp. of Townsend, Massachusetts.

  • Notesfiles, a public domain UNIX version of Notes written by Ray Essick and Rob Kolstad. In the early 1980's it contributed significantly to the rise of USENET. Though eventually eclipsed by the News software, it is still used at many sites worldwide both for local conferencing and as a news reader. A modified version is used on PeaceNet, EcoNet, and most of the other member networks of the Association for Progressive Communication. Notesfiles can be obtained on the Internet at

  • News readers tin and tass. The tass reader, written by Rich Skrenta, was modeled after the Notesfiles software mentioned above. Iain Lea's tin then evolved from tass.

  • COCONET's "Discussion" feature. COCONET is a UNIX-based software platform for running interactive multimedia on-line services, written by Brian Dear and largely modeled after PLATO. It is a product of Coconut Computing, Inc., of San Diego.

  • Notefile, a Notes clone written in ALGOL for the Burroughs B6700 by John Eisenberg at the University of Delaware.

  • FORA, a multi-user chat and messaging system for DOS written by Jim Bowery.

  • The Connection, a XENIX-based BBS program written by Greg Corson.

  • READ, a conferencing system based on the PDP-10 written by Rich Braun.
Computer conferencing is just now hitting the big time, not only with Lotus Notes, but with large consumer-oriented services like America Online and Prodigy, and more sure to follow.

Among the on-line services I have seen, the WELL has best succeeded in building a community comparable to PLATO's. Ironically, the WELL has its roots with EIES and Confer; as far as I know, its founders were unaware of PLATO.

But the WELL is an intentional community. PLATO was an accidental one which emerged spontaneously in an environment that had been created for other purposes. In 1970 few suspected that a human community could grow and thrive within the electronic circuitry of a computer. PLATO demonstrated that this is not only possible, but inevitable.

Copyright © 1994 by David R. Woolley

next previous home
Copyright (c) 1996 - 2006 Elizabeth Mattijsen
I appreciate comments, suggestions and bug-reports.
Please send these to
Home Liz