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Chapter 09 - Networking: Emergence 1979-1981

9.17 In Perspective

The year 1979 saw local area networking transition from a research effort to a technology around which entrepreneurs raised venture capital and set out to build products and hopefully successful companies. And just like the mixed opinions as to what were the first, and maybe even best, uses for these new technologies that had been a leitmotif of the NBS and MITRE Workshops, so too the entrepreneurs differed. Metcalfe knew the answer, even arguing for the terminology local computer networking, and keeping his new company 3Com religiously focused on interconnecting computers as they waited for an affordable and real desktop computer to be introduced. Ungermann and Bass were much more practical: they knew customers wanted to interconnect their growing legions of terminals to multiple computers. They also proved early on that they were not even wedded to Ethernet, as was 3Com. Sytek, the third important start-up of the spring of 1979, showed its roots as well by introducing a low-cost broadband terminal server after a year of doing what they knew best, consulting. The breakout of these three firms would inspire others, who would contribute to very crowded competition in the coming years.

Yet even as these Networking firms jostled amongst themselves, they had even more serious competition from the firms of Data Communication selling dataPBXs. These firms were responding to real needs of real customers, not venturing after the uncertain. Micom had been incrementally innovating a product ever since its earliest days when it sought to get Case to replace its Gandalf dataPBXs with one of their own. So when they finally launched a product one might have thought they had gotten it right. Only they would become victims of their own delimiting ideas of what communications was about. The same could be said about Codex if they had stayed the course longer. But the firms of Data Communications had no idea of the discontinuity about to be launched by IBM and would take years, too many years, to read the tea leaves correctly. So just as the world of Networking was being sized up as LAN terminal servers vs dataPBXs, it was about to change. Not because the behemoth IBM knew what it was unleashing, but because it had decided to get out of its own way and stumbled happily upon the insatiable demand for personal computers.