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Project MAC

Project MAC was a research project, started at MIT on July 1, 1963 with initial funding from a two-million-dollar DARPA grant. Project MAC's original director was Robert Fano. The program manager responsible for the DARPA grant was J.C.R. Licklider, who had previously been at MIT and would later succeed Fano as director of Project MAC. Project MAC was principally funded by DARPA and the National Science Foundation.

Project MAC's founders -- Fano, Fernando J. Corbato, John McCarthy, and Marvin Minsky, among others -- envisioned the creation of a "computer utility", which would be as reliable as source of computational power as the electric utility was a source of electrical power. To this end, Corbató brought the first computer time-sharing system, CTSS, with him from the MIT Computation Center, using the DARPA funding to purchase an IBM 7094 for research use. One of the early focuses of Project MAC would be the development of a successor to CTSS, Multics, which was to be the first high availability computer system, developed as a part of an industry consortium including General Electric and Bell Laboratories.

In the late 1960s, internecine warfare (of an academic sort) broke out between those in the project who desired operating systems that could continue to be customized and tinkered with, and those who desired a stable computing environment so that they could concentrate on their research in other fields of computer science. This culminated with the secession of Marvin Minsky's artificial intelligence group in 1970, leaving Project MAC to form the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.

In 1975, Project MAC was renamed the Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS), and went on to do further ground-breaking work, including a significant role in the development of the Internet. On the fortieth anniversary of Project MAC's establishment, July 1, 2003, LCS re-merged with the AI Lab to form the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, or CSAIL. This merger created the largest laboratory (over 600 personnel) on the MIT campus and was regarded as a reuniting of the diversified elements of Project MAC.

It has several notable alumni who went on to further revolutionize the computer industry. Dan Bricklin created the software application known as VisiCalc, the first electronic spreadsheet and also the first so-called "killer app" that gave people and businesses a reason to own personal computers. Another Project MAC alumnus, Bob Metcalfe, went on to invent Ethernet at the Xerox PARC lab and later founded 3COM.

Project MAC was one of the most important computer research and development collaborations in computer history, along with the developments at Xerox PARC, Berkeley's Project Genie, and SRI's OnLine System.

The Lisp dialect MacLisp was developed by Project MAC.

Directors of Project MAC