» Archive for the 'Milestones' Category

Plato Turns 50

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010 by David Goldes

Imagine a world without the collaborative tools we take for granted today. Decades before the emergence of the Internet and World Wide Web, computer pioneers were building Plato, a system that pioneered chat rooms, e-mail, instant messaging, online forums and message boards, and remote screen sharing. 

When the mind is thinking it is talking to itself. -Plato

Plato (Programmed Logic for Automated Teaching Operations) was the world’s first computer-aided teaching system and it was built in 1960 at Computer-based Education Research Lab (CERL) at the University of Illinois and eventually comprised over 1,000 workstations worldwide. It was in existence for forty years and offered coursework ranging from elementary school to university-level.  

Social computing and collaboration began on Plato in 1973. That year, Plato got Plato Notes (message forums), Talk-o-matic (chatrooms), and Term-talk (instant messaging).  

Plato was also a breeding ground for today’s technology innovators. Ray Ozzie, the creator of Lotus Notes and Microsoft’s chief software architect, worked on the Plato system in the 1970s as an undergraduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Many others including Dave Woolley, who wrote Plato Notes at the age of 17, Kim Mast, who wrote Personal Notes (the e-mail system) in 1974 at the age of 18, and Doug Brown, creator of Talk-o-matic, continued to develop collaborative technologies in their careers.  

Don Bitzer, credited by many as the “father of Plato,” is the co-inventor of the plasma display and has spent his career focusing on collaborative technologies for use in the classroom.  

This week we celebrate Plato’s 50th anniversary. Why a week and not a day? I spoke with Brian Dear, whose book on Plato (The Friendly Orange Glow: The Story of the Plato System and the Dawn of Cyberculture) will be published later this year,told me “[I]t’s hard to pin down an exact date, due to a) it being open to interpretation as to what qualifies as the first day — when the project got green-lighted? when they started designing it? when a system was actually up and running? when they did the first demo? — and b) there’s little lasting documentary evidence from those earliest weeks.”  

“May 1960 was when Daniel Alpert’s interdisciplinary group that had held meetings for weeks about the feasibility of the lab embarking on an automated teaching project, finally submitted its report to Alpert. He read it, thought about it, and decided to ignore the group’s recommendation to not proceed. Instead he asked if a 26-year-old PhD named Don Bitzer wanted to have a go at it, and Bitzer agreed. Consequently, on June 3, Alpert wrote up his own report to the Dean of the Engineering School, which instead of reiterating his group’s recommendation to not go forward with a computer education project, stated that they were indeed going forward. Bitzer went right to work on it, brought in others to help with the hardware and software, and they had a prototype up and running pretty quickly that summer. The rest is history.”  

 

   

 

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.

CompuServe Requiem

Friday, July 3rd, 2009 by David Goldes

The original CompuServe service, first offered in 1979, was shut down this past week by its current owner, AOL.  The service, which provided its users with addresses such as 73402,3633 and was the first major online service, had seen the number of users dwindle in recent years.  At its height, the service boasted about having over half a million users simultaneously on line.  Many innovations we now take for granted, from online travel (Eaasy Sabre), online shopping, online stock quotations, and global weather forecasts, just to name a few, were standard fare on CompuServe in the 1980s.

CompuServe users will be able to use their existing CompuServe Classic (as the service was renamed) addresses at no charge via a new e-mail system, but the software that the service was built on, along with all the features supported by that software, from forums for virtually every topic and profession known to man to members’ Ourworld Web pages, has been shut down. Indeed, the current version of the service’s client software, CompuServe for Windows NT 4.0.2, dates back to 1999.

CompuServe members can convert their existing addresses to the new e-mail system at the CompuServe Mail Center.

David M. Goldes is president and senior analyst at Basex.

The Third Post-Steve Jobs Era

Thursday, January 15th, 2009 by David Goldes

The third post-Steve Jobs era arrived much sooner than anyone imagined.  Shortly after the markets closed in the U.S. on Wednesday, a news release arrived with a copy of Jobs’ e-mail to Apple employees in which he wrote that he “learned that my health-related issues are more complex than I originally thought.”  The company barely survived his first, and forced, exit  (1985-1997) but did run smoothly during his absence for cancer treatment  (the second era).

It was less than two weeks ago that Jobs sent out a similar note, in which he acknowledged his weight loss and attributed it to a “hormone imbalance” for which he was already in treatment.  He termed the remedy as being “relatively simple and straightforward” and promised to continue as CEO.

Jobs is a popular figure in the computer industry, not only as the cofounder of Apple but as the revanchist CEO who ousted the regime at Apple that had ousted him in 1985, and then returned in 1997 to turn around the company.

Because Jobs is deeply involved (some say too much) in every aspect of Apple’s operations and successfully revived the then-struggling computer maker in the late 1990s with such products as the iMac, his health is a matter of concern, not only to family and friends but to Apple employees and investors.  Since a bout with cancer, treated successfully with surgery a few years back, pundits have counted his every sneeze.  The disclosure immediately sparked new concerns about a recurrence of cancer and about how much information Apple was holding back.  The hormone imbalance disclosure was roundly criticized by medical and corporate-governance experts earlier in the month as having been much too general.

The news caused the company’s shares to drop ca. 8% in after-hours trading.  Analysts suggested the stock could drop further when markets reopen and it was down almost 3% as we went to press.

The company’s COO, Tim Cook, who filled in for Jobs in 2004 when he took a leave of absence to battle pancreatic cancer, will also assume the reins now.  Cook is known more for his operations prowess than design prowess but the company has a skilled team of designers in place, all schooled in the Steve Jobs school of design, so it is likely that innovations will continue to appear from Apple for the foreseeable future.´

We don’t know what’s wrong with Steve Jobs but one doesn’t take a six-month leave of absence if it isn’t serious.  Wednesday’s note also included a promise: “As CEO, I plan to remain involved in major strategic decisions while I am out” so, health permitting, he will still be able to act as a kind of editor-in-chief even if not involved in day-to-day operations.  Change in any organization is a fact of life: at some point, Apple will have a new CEO and the new person will be filling some very large shoes.  Jobs has imbued the company with a mission, a way of doing things, and a very clear sense of good design.  It is likely that all of these will continue as Jobs’ legacy, when and if he should no longer be CEO.

To see how this might work out, Apple has to look no further than Redmond, where Microsoft is getting along quite well on a day-to-day basis without Bill Gates.

David M. Goldes is the president of Basex.


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