This Week in MIT History

By Bushra Makiya

The week of November 25, 1986 marked the beginning of a new step in the then ongoing Project Athena: bringing computers into living groups. This project was part of phase two of a five year long Project Athena, which consisted of the deployment of workstations around campus.

The living groups experiment began with the temporary installation of Athena workstations in five houses: Delta Upsilon, pika, Theta Delta Chi, Zeta Beta Tau, and Next House. Each living group decided what configuration of computers they wanted, and the decisions ranged from five computers in DU to over twenty-four in TDC. The installation in TDC was called an intensive workstation setup and included one in every student room and two in the library.

The budget for this pilot project came from the $20 million operating budget of Project Athena and from grants. If the project had spread to all living groups, funding would have become a major issue. Each workstation was a self-sufficient MicroVax II minicomputer linked to the Athena network. While there were some security issues with the workstations, as files left on them were not secure, everything could be saved on floppy disks. The connections, although remote, were said to be extremely fast.

Project Athena began in May of 1983, when the campus network was created and about fifty VAX 11/750s were installed on campus. Later, Athena was extended from five years to eight in order to create a more user friendly environment.

Project Athena began as an experiment and has changed a great deal. It has moved beyond its planned eight year duration, and grown into a $100 million project with 1,300 computers on a campus-wide network, used by 96 percent of undergraduates, which many of us take for granted today.

This story was published on Tuesday, November 23, 1999.
Volume 119, Number 61
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