Bob Metcalfe, the creator of Ethernet, a computer networking technology that has become a standard in the industry for several decades, was awarded the Turing Award by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). The Turing Award is considered the “Nobel Prize of computing” and comes with a $1 million prize. Metcalfe developed Ethernet in the 1970s while working at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), a division of Xerox.
Metcalfe was tasked with developing a technology that could connect desktop machines across an office and enable the exchange of information between them when he arrived at PARC in June 1972. He began work on Ethernet, a local-area network technology that could link personal computers and other devices within an office. Working alongside David Boggs, a doctoral student at nearby Stanford University, Metcalfe designed Ethernet, drawing inspiration from a radio-based network at the University of Hawaii called ALOHAnet. Ethernet could operate with or without cables, but the first network built inside the PARC offices required cables.
Over the next two decades, several technologies developed for the Alto project, including Ethernet, would become familiar parts of personal computing. Ethernet became the primary protocol for building networks in corporate offices, and the technology was also used in homes. In the late 1990s, Ethernet served as the basis for Wi-Fi, the wireless networking standard that is now used in both offices and homes worldwide.
Metcalfe established a company, 3Com, in 1979, which commercialized Ethernet. Boggs remained at PARC as a researcher and later founded his own Ethernet company, LAN Media. Both companies were eventually sold to larger organizations.
The Ethernet protocol has undergone numerous changes over the decades, but the name has remained unchanged. Ethernet has stood out for its memorable name in an industry with a long history of dull names. In the 19th century, “the ether” was thought to be a medium that pervaded everything and transmitted waves of light across the universe. This theory was debunked around the turn of the last century, so Metcalfe and Boggs took the name for their project.
Marc Weber, curator and director of the internet history program at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, says, “Almost everything you do online goes through Ethernet at some stage. You use it all the time.”
The Turing Award is given annually to an individual or individuals for “contributions of lasting and major technical importance to the computer field.” Metcalfe joins a prestigious list of Turing Award winners, including Vint Cerf and Robert Kahn, who helped design the internet’s basic communications protocols, and Tim Berners-Lee, who invented the World Wide Web.
Metcalfe’s contributions to the development of computer networking have had a significant impact on the way people communicate and access information today. His creation of Ethernet laid the foundation for the modern internet and made possible the widespread adoption of personal computers, which have transformed the way people work, communicate, and access information. The Turing Award recognizes Metcalfe’s lasting impact on the computer field and his legacy as a pioneer of computer networking technology.
Metcalfe’s legacy continues to influence the development of computer networking technology today. Ethernet’s evolution has continued, and new technologies such as Ethernet over fiber-optic cables have emerged. The Ethernet Alliance, an industry group dedicated to promoting Ethernet technology, was formed in 2005, and Metcalfe served as the organization’s first chairman.
Ethernet’s success can be attributed to its reliability, scalability, and low cost. It has been able to adapt and evolve to keep up with changing technological needs, and it remains the most widely used networking protocol today. Ethernet’s ubiquity has enabled a level of connectivity and communication that was previously unimaginable, and it has revolutionized the way people interact with each other and with technology, paving the way for countless innovations and advancements in the computer field.