Robert Metcalfe

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Robert Melancton Metcalfe
Robert Metcalfe National Medal of Technology.jpg
Robert Metcalfe wearing the US National Medal of Technology (2003)
Born (1946-04-07) April 7, 1946 (age 74)
Brooklyn, New York, United States
Alma mater MIT - B.S. Electrical Engineering, B.S. Industrial Management, 1969
Harvard University - M.S. Applied Mathematics, 1970; Ph.D. Computer Science (Applied Mathematics), 1973
Known for Internet pioneer, Ethernet inventor, 3Com founder, Metcalfe's Law
Scientific career
Fields Computer networking
Computer science
Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Institutions MIT, Xerox PARC, 3Com, IDG/InfoWord, Polaris Venture Partners, The University of Texas at Austin.
Thesis Packet Communication  (1973)
Doctoral advisor Jeffrey P. Buzen

Robert Melancton Metcalfe (born April 7, 1946) [2] is an engineer and entrepreneur from the United States who helped pioneer the Internet starting in 1970. He co-invented Ethernet, co-founded 3Com and formulated Metcalfe's law, which describes the effect of a telecommunications network. Since January 2011, he has been Professor of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at The University of Texas at Austin. He is also the Murchison Fellow of Free Enterprise. [3]


Metcalfe has received various awards, including the IEEE Medal of Honor and National Medal of Technology and Innovation for his work developing Ethernet technology.

In addition to his accomplishments, Metcalfe has made several predictions which failed to come to pass, separately forecasting the demise of the Internet, wireless networks, and open-source software during the 1990s.

Early life

Robert Metcalfe was born in 1946 in Brooklyn, New York. His father was a gyroscope test technician, who specialized in gyroscopes. His mother was a homemaker but later became the secretary at Bay Shore High School. In 1964, Metcalfe graduated from Bay Shore High School to join the MIT Class of 1968. He finally graduated from MIT in 1969 with two S.B. degrees, one in electrical engineering and the other in industrial management from the MIT Sloan School of Management. He then went to Harvard for graduate school, earning his M.S. in applied mathematics in 1970 and his PhD in computer science (applied mathematics) in 1973.


While pursuing a doctorate in computer science, Metcalfe took a job with MIT's Project MAC after Harvard refused to let him be responsible for connecting the school to the brand-new ARPAnet. At MAC, Metcalfe was responsible for building some of the hardware that would link MIT's minicomputers with the ARPAnet. ARPAnet was initially the topic of his doctoral dissertation, but the first version was not accepted. [4] His inspiration for a new dissertation came while working at Xerox PARC, where he read a paper about the ALOHA network at the University of Hawaii. He identified and fixed some of the bugs in the AlohaNet model and made his analysis part of a revised thesis, which finally earned him his Harvard PhD in 1973. [5]

Metcalfe was working at PARC in 1973 when he and David Boggs invented Ethernet, initially a standard for connecting computers over short distances. Metcalfe identifies the day Ethernet was born as May 22, 1973, the day he circulated a memo titled "Alto Ethernet" which contained a rough schematic of how it would work. "That is the first time Ethernet appears as a word, as does the idea of using coax as ether, where the participating stations, like in AlohaNet or ARPAnet, would inject their packets of data, they'd travel around at megabits per second, there would be collisions, and retransmissions, and back-off," Metcalfe explained. Boggs identifies another date as the birth of Ethernet: November 11, 1973, the first day the system actually functioned. [6]

In 1979, Metcalfe departed PARC and co-founded 3Com, [7] a manufacturer of computer networking equipment, in his Palo Alto apartment. [6] In 1980 he received the ACM Grace Hopper Award for his contributions to the development of local networks, specifically Ethernet. In 1990, in a boardroom skirmish, [6] the 3Com board of directors chose Eric Benhamou to succeed Bill Krause as CEO of the networking company instead of Metcalfe. [6] Metcalfe left 3Com and began a 10-year stint as a publisher and pundit, writing an Internet column for InfoWorld. He became a venture capitalist in 2001 and is now a general partner at Polaris Venture Partners. In 1997, he co-founded Pop!Tech, an executive technology conference.

In November 2010 Metcalfe was selected to lead innovation initiatives at The University of Texas at Austin's Cockrell School of Engineering. He began his appointment in January 2011. [8]

Metcalfe was a keynote speaker at the 2016 Congress of Future Science and Technology Leaders and in 2019 he presented the Bernard Price Memorial Lecture in South Africa. [9]


In 1996, Metcalfe was awarded the IEEE Medal of Honor for "exemplary and sustained leadership in the development, standardization, and commercialization of Ethernet." [10]

In 2003 he received the Marconi Award for "For inventing the Ethernet and promulgating his Law of network utility based on the square of the nodes"

On March 14, 2003, Metcalfe received the National Medal of Technology from President Bush in a White House ceremony "for leadership in the invention, standardization, and commercialization of Ethernet". [11]

In May 2007, along with 17 others, Metcalfe, was inducted to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Akron, Ohio, for his work with Ethernet technology. [12]

In October 2008, Metcalfe received the Fellow Award from the Computer History Museum "for fundamental contributions to the invention, standardization, and commercialization of Ethernet." [13]

Incorrect predictions

Metcalfe predicted in 1995 that the Internet would suffer a "catastrophic collapse" the following year; he promised to eat his words if it did not. During his keynote speech at the sixth International World Wide Web Conference in 1997, he took a printed copy of his column that predicted the collapse, put it in a blender with some liquid and then consumed the pulpy mass. [14] [15] [16] He had tried to eat his words printed on a very large cake, but the audience would not accept this form of "eating his words."

During an event where he talked about predictions at the eighth International World Wide Web Conference in 1999, a participant asked: what is the bet?. He stated that there was no bet as he was not ready to eat another column. [17]

Metcalfe has harshly criticized open source software, and Linux in particular, predicting that the latter would be obliterated after Microsoft released Windows 2000:

The Open Source Movement's ideology is utopian balderdash [... that] reminds me of communism. [...] Linux [is like] organic software grown in utopia by spiritualists [...] When they bring organic fruit to market, you pay extra for small apples with open sores – the Open Sores Movement. When [Windows 2000] gets here, goodbye Linux. [18]

He later recanted to some extent, saying in a column two weeks later:

I am ashamed of myself for not resisting the temptation to take cheap shots in my column ... I should not have fanned the flames by joking about the Open Source initiative. [19]

He predicted that wireless networking would die out in the mid 1990s.:

After the wireless mobile bubble bursts this year, we will get back to stringing fibers ... bathrooms are still predominantly plumbed. For more or less the same reason, computers will stay wired. [20]

He predicted in 2006 that Windows and Linux would not be able to handle video:

Bob Metcalfe recently gave a TV interview in which he stated that current operating systems (Windows and Linux) are outdated clunkers that won't be able to adequately handle the coming of "video internet" and suggests that new operating systems need to be developed to take hold in a few years. [21]

Selected publications

Related Research Articles

Ethernet Computer networking technology

Ethernet is a family of computer networking technologies commonly used in local area networks (LAN), metropolitan area networks (MAN) and wide area networks (WAN). It was commercially introduced in 1980 and first standardized in 1983 as IEEE 802.3. Ethernet has since been refined to support higher bit rates, a greater number of nodes, and longer link distances, but retains much backward compatibility. Over time, Ethernet has largely replaced competing wired LAN technologies such as Token Ring, FDDI and ARCNET.

3Com company

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Metcalfes law empirical rule that that the value of a telecommunications network is proportional to the square of its number of users

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ALOHAnet, also known as the ALOHA System, or simply ALOHA, was a pioneering computer networking system developed at the University of Hawaii. ALOHAnet became operational in June, 1971, providing the first public demonstration of a wireless packet data network. ALOHA originally stood for Additive Links On-line Hawaii Area.

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  1. "Computer History Museum 2008 Fellow Awards". Archived from the original on October 3, 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-21.
  2. "Robert Metcalfe, Inventor Profile". National Inventors Hall of Fame. Archived from the original on 2008-01-04. Retrieved 2007-10-19.
  3. "Inventor of Ethernet and Venture Capital Executive Bob Metcalfe to Lead Innovation Initiatives at UT ECE". Archived from the original on 2011-07-22. Retrieved 2011-01-20.
  4. "Entrepreneurial Capitalism & Innovation: A History of Computer Communications from the Development of the Modem to the Early Years of the Internet, by James Pelkey, interview conducted by the author in 1988" "Only one small hitch, which is, when I showed up in June of '72 to defend my PhD thesis at Harvard, it was rejected, and I was thrown out on my ass."
  5. "Internet Pioneers - Bob Metcalfe". Ibiblio . Retrieved 2007-12-07.
  6. 1 2 3 4 "The Legend of Bob Metcalfe". Wired. November 1998. Archived from the original on 2008-05-16. Retrieved 2016-11-09.
  7. Hedden, Heather Behn; Salamie, David E.; Meyer, Stephen (2010) [previous versions appeared in vol.11 and 34]. Jacques, Derek; Kepos, Paula (eds.). "3Com Corporation". International Directory of Company Histories. Farmington Hills, Michigan: St. James Press (Gale, Cengage Learning group). 106: 465. ISBN   978-1-55862-640-9.
  8. "Inventor of Ethernet and Venture Capital Executive Bob Metcalfe to Lead Innovation Initiatives at The University of Texas at Austin". The University of Texas at Austin. 2010-11-08. Archived from the original on 2010-11-21. Retrieved 2010-11-12.
  10. "IEEE Medal of Honor Recipients". IEEE. n.d. Retrieved 2006-08-19.
  11. "Recipients of the National Medal of Technology". United States Technology Administration. 2006-07-24. Archived from the original on 2006-08-12. Retrieved 2006-08-19.
  12. "Inventors to be honored on Capitol Hill" . Retrieved 2007-02-08.[ dead link ] (currently inaccessible)
  13. CHM. "Bob Metcalfe — CHM Fellow Award Winner". Archived from the original on April 3, 2015. Retrieved March 30, 2015. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2012-07-03. Retrieved 2012-07-08.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  14. "Keynote Speaker: Bob Metcalfe". Sixth International World Wide Web Conference. Archived from the original on 25 March 2012. Retrieved 21 August 2013.
  15. "Sage who warned of Net's collapse eats his words". Reuters. 1997-04-11. Retrieved 2007-01-12.
  16. "Eating My Collapse Column". North American Network Operators Group. 1997-04-16. Archived from the original on 2006-11-07. Retrieved 2007-01-12.
  17. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 1999-09-13. Retrieved 1999-09-13.Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  18. "Linux's '60s technology, open-sores ideology won't beat W2K, but what will?". Infoworld. 1999-06-21. Archived from the original on 2007-03-16. Retrieved 2007-01-12.
  19. Metcalfe, Bob (1999). "Linux redux: Enough of the OSnic slurs, let's count Linux vs. W2K users". InfoWorld. 21 (27): 74.
  20. Metcalfe, Bob (1993). "Wireless computing will flop — permanently". InfoWorld. 15 (33): 48.
  21. "Windows, Linux 25 Year Old "Clunkers"". Retrieved 2018-10-13.
  22. "Zen and the Art of Selling". Technology Review. June 1992. Retrieved 2008-08-04.
Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Joel S. Engel, Richard H. Frenkiel and William C. Jakes, Jr.
IEEE Alexander Graham Bell Medal
Succeeded by
Gerald R. Ash and Billy B. Oliver
Preceded by
Stephen Wozniak
ACM Grace Murray Hopper Award
Succeeded by
Daniel S. Bricklin