Highlight from Winter 1993 CS Alumni News

Whatever happened to Plato?

by H. George Friedman, Professor

A lot of U of I alumni remember the comptuerized teaching system Plato. If you ask around the campus today, however, many people won't recognize the name. Plato has become something of a victim of its own success.

Plato was developed, as you probably recall, right here at UIUC, in the Computer-Based Education Research Laboratory (CERL). Eventually, agreements were reached with Control Data Corp (CDC) to develop and market Plato, and most rights to the name were sold to CDC at that time. The university retained the right to use the name Plato on the machine operated by UIUC.

Eventually, CDC pulled back from their Plato effort and sold the name and many of their rights to the system to The Roach Organization (TRO). Today, the name Plato identified the TRO product in the CAI field. TRO's Plato is essentially the same system that was developed at CERL. Just to make things more complicated, CDC stayed in the CAI business, and therefore had to change the names of their CAI product. They chose to call it Cybis. So Cybis is essentailly the same system as Plato.

Meanwhile, back at the university, CERL began some new development directions. A new version of Plato was started using satellite transmission from the central system to the remote terminals. This was christened NovaNET. About the same time, the old CDC Cyber central computers were retired in favor of CERL-designed comptuer boards called Zephyr processors. These accept the same machine instructions as the Cybers, in a smultprocessing environment, so the same system can run on the Zephyrs.

A new company, University Communications Inc. (UCI), was set up to market NovaNET service. The name Plato was phased out of UIUC operations to ensure that there was no encroachment on the trade mark rights of CDC and TRO. So CERL continued to operate, only now the service formerly called Plato was called NovaNET.

The latest chapter in this sata is the agreement between the universtiy and UCI for UCI to take over all NovaNET opeaations, with a three-year phase-in period. At this writing (November 1993), UCI is in control of NovaNET operations. CERL itslef will be closed in the summer of 1994. Many CERL employees have already transferred either to UCVI or to other positions, both inside and outside the university.

So Plato lives on, with TRO. It has a twin, Cybis, which lives on at CDC. And it has a new sibling, NovaNET, which lives on with UCI.


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