In the late 1970’s, Phil Kaufman led Intel’s strategic planning functions, reporting directly to Andy Grove. With a background in communications theory, Kaufman naturally envisioned a future with communication products consuming lots of silicon. Learning that Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) was talking with Xerox about Xerox’s Ethernet technology, Kaufman called Gordon Bell of DEC, who he knew from the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). Bell referred him to David Liddle of Xerox. With early assistance from Bob Metcalfe, acting as a consultant, Liddle, Bell, and Kaufman led the creation of the DIX consortium (Digital Equipment Corporation—Intel—Xerox) that became an active agent in creating the IEEE Ethernet standard. In mid-1982, Kaufman left Intel to, become president of Silicon Compilers. Silicon Compilers had, independently, formed a partnership with Seeq and 3Com that had decided years earlier to design an Ethernet chip as their first product, to prove their software worked. Just as Kaufmann was joining Silicon Compilers, Seeq was beginning to ship their Ethernet controllers, beating Intel to the market.
I had only met Kaufman on one other occasion, when we met to discuss a venture capital financing for Silicon Compilers. Later, when I called to ask for this interview, he said he was stressed for time, but if I was willing to conduct it after the close of work someday, he was willing. I didn’t think we would have much to talk about other than his role at Intel when Intel joined the consortium of Xerox and DEC to create the Ethernet standard. I hadn’t considered the importance of Hewlett Packard, for example. Kaufman also discusses the nature of relationships and networks, both personal and those between corporations, and much more. It reminded me of Lick’s conclusion that it is not necessarily the most complete product, but the first to market that wins. Of all the interviews in this collection, this conversation is the most informative one about the role of semiconductors in the history of computer communications.
Keywords: Intel, IEEE Ethernet standard, Silicon Compilers