Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Ethernet folklore and mythology

If you’re a history buff, you may be interested in the story of how Ethernet came to be so popular. Here’s how it happened:

The original idea for the Ethernet was hatched in the mind of a graduate computer science student at Harvard University named Robert Metcalfe. Looking for a thesis idea in 1970, he refined a networking technique that was used in Hawaii called the AlohaNet (it was actually a wireless network) and developed a technique that would enable a network to efficiently use as much as 90 percent of its capacity.

By 1973, he had his first Ethernet network up and running at the famous Xerox Palo Alto Research Center(PARC). Bob dubbed his network “Ethernet” in honor of the thick network cable, which he called “the ether.” (Xerox PARC was busy in 1973. In addition to Ethernet, PARC developed the first personal computer that used a graphical user interface complete with icons, windows, and menus, and the world’s first laser printer.)

In 1979, Xerox began working with Intel and DEC (a once popular computer company) to make Ethernet an industry standard networking product. Along the way, they enlisted the help of the IEEE, which formed committee number 802.3 and began the process of standardizing Ethernet in 1981. The 802.3 released the first official Ethernet standard in 1983.

Meanwhile, Bob Metcalfe left Xerox, turned down a job offer from Steve Jobs to work at Apple computers, and started a company called the Computer, Communication, and Compatibility Corporation — now known as 3Com. 3Com has since become one of the largest manufacturers of Ethernet equipment in the world.

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