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:
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.
- 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
- 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
- READ, a conferencing system based on the PDP-10 written by
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
Copyright (c) 1996 - 2006 Elizabeth Mattijsen
I appreciate comments, suggestions and bug-reports.
Please send these to firstname.lastname@example.org.