The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 40.0°F | A Few Clouds

Athena calendar



Athena Calendar





Compiled By Simson L. Garfinkel

Project Athena has been a part of MIT for almost two years. Projections made in the early days were not always accomplished. Here is a summary of what officials in the project have said, and what has happened.


May 27, 1983

MIT announced Project Athena, billing it as a large-scale experiment in integrating computers and interactive graphics.

International Business Machines Corp. and Digital Electronic Corp. would provide five employees each to the project. Between them, the companies would donate almost $30 million in equipment to MIT.

MIT was expected to raise an additional $20 million for the project on its own.

Gerald L. Wilson '61 said that Project Athena expected to receive 63 DEC VAX 11/750 and 11/730 minicomputers over the next two years, and 1600 advanced personal computers by 1988.

IBM was to provide 500 PC/XT's in the next two years, and another 500 advanced single-user systems by 1986.

DEC equipment would be used solely by the School of Engineering. The remaining schools, and the freshman class, would use IBM machines.


September, 1983

Prof. James D. Bruce '60, Athena's director of equipment installation, said that DEC had delivered 75 personal computers, terminals and workstations, and that another 75 were expected by the end of the term.

Negotiations between MIT and IBM began six months later than those with DEC, resulting in a delay in IBM's first shipment of PCs, which were now expected to arrive in January 1984.

Bruce said that the first phase of the project would be finished by September 1984, when 800 machines from the two companies were installed. At that time, IBM's computers would be connected in a network.

The final system, scheduled for completion in 1988, was expected to consist of 3000 machines.


Mid-October, 1983

MIT had acquired $5 million out of the $20 million it had to raise for the project.

The Project Athena Committee released in September "An Introduction to Project Athena," a report detailing its plans for the next five years.

The system would be "available to interested undergraduate students and faculty" by the end of the month (September 1983), according to the report.

Wilson said that Athena plans to connect the 500 IBM PC/XTs it expected to receive in 1984 in five to eight local networks by September of that year. Each network would have an IBM 4341 mainframe acting as a file server.

Wilson added that use of word processing facilities in April and May would be restricted. "If every student who had something to write used Athena," the use would overload the system, he explained.

Joel Moses PhD '67, head of the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, said at a faculty meeting that the initial Athena system would consist of UNIX, EMACS, Scribe, FORTRAN-77, C, LISP and Pascal.


February, 1984

Steven R. Lerman '72, director of Project Athena, said that "by January [1985] every undergraduate will receive an account for the Athena system."

Ramin Zabih '85, chairman of the Student Information Processing Board at that time, asked Athena to install terminals in the Student Center library. Bruce said that he was considering installing 70 to 80 terminals along with supporting minicomputers and a mainframe computer.

Two clusters were functioning at this time, in Buildings 1 and 11, according to a report in Tech Talk, and one was soon to come up in Building 38.

Athena promised eight DEC clusters, with 300 terminals, by December 1984.

In addition, there were to be eight to 10 IBM clusters operational by December. "Planned sites include East Campus [Sloan School] and the Student Center," said Lerman.

By this time, most of the software Athena had promised was in place, but more was needed. Lerman hoped to have most of the software by September 1984.

"We are in the process of negotiating for a statistical data package, a major graphics package, a complete business text processing system, a spreadsheet program, and software in symbolic math and database management," he said.


Summer 1984

Lerman announced Friday, July 27, that clusters in Buildings 38 and 66 would be on line in time for the fall semester, with the Student Center cluster due in September or October.

"Terminals will be woven in through the stacks, and the carrels will be converted to combination carrels and work stations," Lerman said.

He said that clusters in Building 6 would be the next to go into operation. "These will be smaller, IBM-based clusters, with only 12 or so terminals," he said. "They will start with PC's and gradually evolve to more sophisticated, networked terminals."

Lerman said that the system would eventually have 2600 workstations and terminals (down from the September 1983 estimate of 3000 terminals).


October 17, 1984

Jerome H. Saltzer '61, professor of computer science, was appointed technical director for Project Athena.

Saltzer was to be reponsible for the technical design of the system, according to Lerman. Lerman would remain the project's director, overseeing the operation's management issues and faculty grants.


October 30, 1984

Lerman admitted that Athena was "behind the schedule we were supposed to meet." The opening of undergraduate accounts would be delayed until February 1985.

The Student Center cluster would be opened in November, and not September or October as previously announced, Lerman said. The cluster would contain 30 DEC terminals, 30 IBM PC's running terminal emulation programs, and DEC VAX's. Lerman predicted it would have 107 DEC and 73 IBM terminals by the end of the term.

Lerman blamed IBM for the delay, saying that the change came about when the plan to use IBM 4341 mainframes to network the PC's was scrapped. He explained that the IBM mainframes were not designed to serve other computers but were designed to function independently.

A new plan to incorporate IBM equipment was announced by Lerman that called for the use of IBM PC/AT's. Athena already had 80 AT's, and an order was placed with IBM for another 80.

Eventually, Athena would switch away from the PC/AT's to more advanced workstations, Lerman said. These would consist of 32-bit processors, high resolution displays, one million bytes of memory and would run UNIX.


November 29, 1984

At a Project Athena forum, Lerman said that any undergraduate who wanted an Athena account would get be able to one by spring term, 1985. These accounts would all be located in the right wing of the Student Center Library.

Lerman said that there were currently 1600 Athena users, a number which he expected to double in the spring.

Lerman added that living groups would begin to get equipment in late 1986, and that it would take 11/2 years to install all of the equipment.


Janurary 23, 1985

Lerman pushed back the date that undergraduates would receive accounts to March 1985, saying that he would announce the opening with slides at LSC movies and announcements in The Tech.

Student storage would be limited on the new system. Most students with course accounts have 2.5 megabytes of storage, but the new accounts will only have 250 to 500 kilobytes, enough for 150 to 300 pages of typed text.

Cecilia R. D'Oliveira '77, manager of user services for Project Athena, said that delays were largely caused by the desire not to use IBM PC/XT's as computers but to wait for more advanced equipment.

"We are planning on using up to 200 PC/AT's to carry us through this year," she said, with 63 being used by faculty and Athena staff.

IBM placed a hold on the remaining shipment of 80 AT's until May, due to suspected hard disk problems. 17 of Athena's AT's have not been released, for similar reasons.