Ethernet co-inventor David Boggs dies at 71

'Packets' were the key idea that made data transmission incredibly reliable.

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Steve Dent
March 1, 2022 6:05 AM
David Boggs obituary
Xerox PARC

Pioneering Xerox PARC computer researcher David Boggs has died at 71, The New York Times has reported. He was best known for co-inventing the Ethernet PC connection standard used to link PCs in close proximity to other computers, printers and the internet — over both wired and wireless connections. 

The Xerox PARC research lab in Palo Alto developed much of the PC tech we tech for granted today like the graphic user interface, mouse and word processor. Boggs joined the team in 1973, and started working with fellow researcher Bob Metcalfe on a system to send information to and from the lab's computer. 

In about two years, they had designed the first version of Ethernet, a link that could transmit data at 2.94 Mbps over a coaxial cable. It borrowed in part from a wireless networking system developed at the University of Hawaii called ALOHAnet, tapping into Boggs' passion for HAM radio. "He was the perfect partner for me," Metcalfe told the NYT. “I was more of a concept artist, and he was a build-the-hardware-in-the-back-room engineer.”

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Ethernet co-inventor David Boggs dies at 71
Xerox PARC

At this point, a networking system called Arpanet already existed, but was designed for connections over longer distances. Ethernet beat out competing technologies for near-proximity connections thanks to its clever packet technology. That allowed data to be sent over wires or wirelessly, and it would continue to work even if some packets were lost. 

Metcalfe eventually founded the Ethernet networking giant 3Com, while Boggs stayed at PARC as a researcher. He later moved to mini-computer giant DEC, then started an Ethernet company called LAN Media.

Ethernet became the standard protocol for wired devices in the '80s and is the foundational tech used for WiFi that first proliferated in the 1990s. Nearly 50 years later, it has never been replaced and is ubiquitous in nearly all digital devices. So why did it survive and thrive? "Seems Ethernet does not work in theory, only in practice," Boggs once said, Metcalfe told the NYT.

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