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Chapter 09 - Networking: Emergence 1979-1981

9.3 The Workshop

The MITRE and NBS invitation letter to the “Local Network Protocols” forum of January 31, 1979 read in part:

The purpose of the Protocol Forums is to identify issues, problems and potential solutions pertaining to protocol development for local computer packet communication networks. The forums will provide a mechanism for obtaining current information on research in the area of local network protocols which is not available in the literature. Emphasis will be placed on protocols applicable to local packet broadcast networks where terminal to computer as well as computer to computer communications are required.

Attendees were:

Attendee Organization
Dr. David Clark MIT
Dr. Ira Cotton NBS
Dr. Robert Gordon Prime
Mr. Lee LaBarre MITRE
Mr. Paul Levine Prime
Mr. Greg Hopkins MITRE
Mr. Norm Meisner MITRE
Dr. Robert Metcalfe Independent Consultant
Mr. Ira Newman NSA
Mr. Robert Rosenthal NBS

LaBarre remembers:

We actually had come in with some preconceived ideas as to what the issues were, and we discovered that what we though were the issues were not really the major issues. There were higher level issues that were more important, and a lot of those issues had to do with the upper layer protocol suite. At that time we were more concerned with the access mechanisms in local area networks, and we grew to appreciate, because the experts that we had brought together had the ARPA experience, the requirement and the necessity for inter working these LAN’s, using higher level protocols: XNS, TCP, etc.


I started working towards a larger conference as soon as the forum was finished because there was a clear message that something important was happening! So we knew there was a real need to start the talk about local networks, and we decided to call them local area networks, by the way. I remember Bob Metcalfe always wanted to call them ‘local computer networks,’ LACNs, and I wasn’t particularly fond of that because of this mindset I had of unbundling this technology, and I always wanted to call them local area networks.

The preference for “local area networks” over “local computer networks” represented a real difference in perspective between those within NBS and MITRE and Metcalfe the visionary. Both NBS and MITRE saw this new technology as a solution to connecting terminals to multiple host computers, particularly to solve the problems and to reduce the costs of stringing computer cable from every terminal to every computer. With a local area network, one cable could traverse an entire facility with all terminals and computers connected to the one “local” cable. While a valid and understandable objective, for someone like Metcalfe, who had seen the future in the form of Altos workstations and believed a computer would soon be on every desktop, the expression “local computer network” better captured the technology’s role. Metcalfe’s views were not completely disregarded for he won the debates concerning the priority of higher level protocols – convinced as he was that the lower level access issues had been solved with Ethernet. To keep the momentum going, NBS and MITRE scheduled a more extensive Forum for March 7 at the Copley Plaza Hotel, Boston, MA.