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History of Ethernet

Before telling you just exactly how to set up an Ethernet, please let me bore you... OK, seriously, if you are a real hacker, you will find Ethernet history to be exciting.  One of the most amazing things someone could do is create a networking technology that today is used on the vast majority of all the local area networks on this planet!

May 22, 1973, at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), the world's first Ethernet LAN transmitted its first packet (chunk of data).   The proud inventors were Bob Metcalf and David Boggs.  For years they labored in the laboratory to improve their invention.  By 1976 their experimental network was connecting 100 devices. 

The turning point came in 1979.  That year Gordon Bell of Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC) phoned Metcalf to suggest that they work together to make a commercial product out of Ethernet.  Metcalf's employer, Xerox, loved the idea.  DEC would build Ethernet hardware, and Intel would provide chips for DEC's Ethernet network interface cards (NICs).  The idea was that this trio of industrial titans would keep the technology to itself, so that anyone who would want to use Ethernet would have to buy the equipment from their combine.

There was one problem with this idea -- if Ethernet were to become the dominant networking technology someday, this combine would violate US antitrust laws designed to curb monopolies.  Back then, no one used Ethernet outside the laboratory.  So for these people to be thinking about the danger of becoming a monopoly was either arrogant -- or prescient.

Metcalf, Bell and associates choose to avoid an Ethernet monopoly.  They began working with the Institute of Electronics and Electrical Engineers (IEEE) to create an open industry standard for Ethernet.  That meant that anyone would be free to create and sell Ethernet hardware or design network operating systems that would use it.  By persuading Xerox, DEC and Intel to make Ethernet free for anyone to build ensured that Ethernet would become inexpensive and widely available.  For this they deserve credit for creating one of the keystones of today's Internet.
 In June of 1979, Metcalf left Xerox to found 3Com Corp.  By March 1981, 3Com shipped its first Ethernet hardware to the public.  Ethernet had finally emerged from the laboratory. 

In 1982, 3Com shipped its first Ethernet adapter for a personal computer -- the "Apple Box."  Some 18 months later 3Com introduced its first Ethernet internal card, the Etherlink ISA adapter for the IBM PC.  This card used "Thin Ethernet" cabling, a technique that is still popular today.  Below we will show how to connect your computers using Thin Ethernet, which is probably the easiest way to get a LAN running.

In 1983, the IEEE published the Ethernet standard, 802.3.  Xerox turned over all its Ethernet patents to the nonprofit IEEE, which in turn will license any company to build Ethernet hardware for a fee of $1000.  This was yet another act of corporate generosity which helped make Ethernet the most widely used local area networking technology.

In 1989, the Ethernet standard won international approval with the decision of the International Organization for Standards (ISO) to adopt it as standard number 88023.

Why all this history?  The important thing with Ethernet is that it became a world-wide recognized standard in 1989.  That means if you set up an Ethernet LAN in your home, you can be certain that much of what you learn from it will work on Ethernet LANs anywhere else on the planet.  Also, if you ever invent something truly wonderful, please remember this story and make your invention freely available to the world, just as Metcalf and Boggs did. 

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