Where were you when the lights went on?
With apologies to Lennon & McCartney, Bob Metcalfe…and everyone else!
It was 45 years ago
Dr. Metcalfe taught the bits to flow
They’ve been helping data streams to twirl
And they’re guaranteed to find your URL.
So may I introduce to you
The protocol you all adore
Metcalfe’s Luminef’rous Aethernet.
Less than a decade after Sgt. Pepper changed the musical world, researchers at Xerox PARC and elsewhere were also on the cusp of changing the world. On May 22, 1973, Bob Metcalfe wrote a memo that brought Ethernet out of the confines of research labs – effectively switching on the lights for a new networked world. He originally named this networking protocol after the “Lumineferous Aether” – the invisible substance that scientists once thought must fill up all empty space. (Otherwise, how could lightwaves travel from here to there without something to propagate those waves?)
Like the luminferous aether (or just “ether” to its friends), Metcalfe envisioned Ethernet as an all-pervasive medium, but for the transmission of data rather than light. And, despite a variety of competitors, Ethernet did indeed become not just pervasive, but transformative: The availability of easy and inexpensive networking fundamentally changed the way we use computers, and played a major role in the advent of the Internet.
One of the main forces driving the ubiquity of Ethernet was a startup called 3Com. 3Com was the brainchild of Bob Metcalfe, and it went on to become one of the most successful tech companies ever. It also eventually hit a few icebergs along the way, and wound up being sold to HP after three decades as an independent trailblazer.
The first comprehensive history of 3Com – based on countless hours of interviews with company insiders, from the CEO suite to the factory floor – will be published next year. The 3Com story is full of surprising twists and turns, international intrigue, strong personalities, and some business insights that still apply to the startups of today. We’ll be sharing some previews, “extended cuts” from our interviews, exclusive photos, and we may even have a contest or two. Sign up for our email newsletter to get updates – and please get in touch if you have your own 3Com memories to share.