Project Athena was a joint project of MIT, Digital Equipment Corporation, and IBM. It was launched in 1983, and research and development ran until June 30, 1991, eight years after it began. It is widely believed that the goals were to create a computing environment that would scale up to 1,000 workstations (like VAX) and accommodate heterogeneous hardware, yet be "coherent"; in fact, the goal was to improve the quality of education delivered by the Institute. The concept that a user could go to any workstation and access any files or applications without finding major differences in the user interface and service delivery, just like browsing the Internet today, was felt to be key to the delivery of a better educational experience.
The project spawned many technologies that are widely used today, such as the X Window System and Kerberos. Among the other technologies developed for Project Athena were the Xaw widget set, Zephyr Notification Service (which was the first instant messaging service), and the Hesiod name and directory service.
When Project Athena ended in 1991, the computing environment was renamed to the Athena system, and is still used by many in the MIT community through the computer clusters scattered around the campus, despite the increasing popularity of laptops and ubiquity of wireless internet on campus.
Pixar Animation Studios, the computer graphics and animation company (then the Lucasfilm Computer Graphics Project, now owned by Walt Disney Pictures), used most of the first fifty Project Athena systems before they went into general use rendering The Adventures of André and Wally B..
North Carolina State University also runs a variation of Athena named 'Eos/Unity'
University of Maryland College Park also runs a variation of Athena named 'Project Glue'.