Robert Metcalfe

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Robert 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 72)
Brooklyn, New York, United States
Citizenship American
Alma mater MIT - B.S. Electrical Engineering, B.S. Industrial Management, 1969
Harvard University - M.S. Applied Mathematics, 1970; Ph.D. Computer Science, 1973
Known for Co-invention of Ethernet
Local area network
Scientific career
Fields Computer networking
Computer science
Institutions MIT, Xerox PARC, 3Com, 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 electrical engineer from the United States who co-invented Ethernet, founded 3Com and formulated Metcalfe's law. As of January 2006, he is a general partner of Polaris Venture Partners. Starting in January 2011, he holds the position of professor of electrical engineering and director of innovation at The University of Texas at Austin.[3]

Early life[edit]

Robert Metcalfe was born in 1946 in Brooklyn, New York. His father was a testing technician, who specialized in gyroscopes. His mother was a homemaker but later became the secretary of 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. Metcalfe was so enamored with ARPAnet, he made it the topic of his doctoral dissertation. The first version wasn't accepted. 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.[4]

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.[5]

In 1979, Metcalfe departed PARC and founded 3Com, a manufacturer of computer networking equipment. In 1980 he received the ACM Grace Hopper Award for his contributions to the development of local networks, specifically Ethernet. In 1990 Metcalfe lost a boardroom skirmish at 3Com in the contest to succeed Bill Krause as CEO. The board of directors chose Eric Benhamou to run the networking company Metcalfe had founded in his Palo Alto apartment in 1979. 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 cofounded 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.[6]

Metcalfe was a keynote speaker at the 2016 Congress of Future Science and Technology Leaders.


Metcalfe was awarded the IEEE Medal of Honor in 1996 for "exemplary and sustained leadership in the development, standardization, and commercialization of Ethernet."[7] He received the 2003 Marconi Award for "For inventing the Ethernet and promulgating his Law of network utility based on the square of the nodes"[1]

Metcalfe received the National Medal of Technology from President Bush in a White House ceremony on March 14, 2003, "for leadership in the invention, standardization, and commercialization of Ethernet", having been selected for the honor in 2003.[8]

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.[9]

In October 2008, Metcalfe received the Fellow Award from the Computer History Museum "for fundamental contributions to the invention, standardization, and commercialization of Ethernet."[10]

Incorrect predictions[edit]

Outside of his technical achievements, Metcalfe is perhaps best known for his 1995 prediction 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[11] 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.[12][13] This was after he tried to eat his words in the form of a very large cake, but the audience strongly protested.[clarification needed]

During an event where he talked about predictions[14] 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.

Metcalfe is also known for his harsh criticism of 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.[15]

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 Sores initiative.[16]

He also 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.[17]

Selected publications[edit]

  • "Packet Communication", MIT Project MAC Technical Report MAC TR-114, December 1973 (a recast version of Metcalfe's Harvard dissertation)
  • "Zen and the Art of Selling", Technology Review, May/June 1992[18]


  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. ^ "Internet Pioneers - Bob Metcalfe". Ibiblio. Retrieved 2007-12-07. 
  5. ^ "The Legend of Bob Metcalfe". Wired. November 1998. Archived from the original on 2008-05-16. Retrieved 2016-11-09. 
  6. ^ "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. Retrieved 2010-11-12. 
  7. ^ "IEEE Medal of Honor Recipients". IEEE. n.d. Retrieved 2006-08-19. 
  8. ^ "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. 
  9. ^ "Inventors to be honored on Capitol Hill". Retrieved 2007-02-08. [dead link] (currently inaccessible)
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ "Keynote Speaker: Bob Metcalfe". Sixth International World Wide Web Conference. Archived from the original on 25 March 2012. Retrieved 21 August 2013. 
  12. ^ "Sage who warned of Net's collapse eats his words". Reuters. 1997-04-11. Retrieved 2007-01-12. 
  13. ^ "Eating My Collapse Column". North American Network Operators Group. 1997-04-16. Archived from the original on 2006-11-07. Retrieved 2007-01-12. 
  14. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 1999-09-13. Retrieved 1999-09-13.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  15. ^ "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. 
  16. ^ Metcalfe, Bob (1999). "Linux redux: Enough of the OSnic slurs, let's count Linux vs. W2K users". InfoWorld. 21 (27): 74. 
  17. ^ Metcalfe, Bob (1993). "Wireless computing will flop — permanently". InfoWorld. 15 (33): 48. 
  18. ^ "Zen and the Art of Selling". Technology Review. June 1992. Retrieved 2008-08-04. 

External links[edit]

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