Experts look to the future

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Last week 3Com celebrated the opening of its new East Coast operations headquarters in Marlborough, Mass. Attending the festivities were industry luminaries Robert Metcalfe, 3Com founder and inventor of Ethernet; Tim Berners-Lee, father of the World Wide Web; and 3Com CEO Eric Benhamou. They took time out to talk with Network World reporters.

Looking back 10 years, did you envision the industry to be where it is today?

Benhamou: Most of us felt we were part of something big. But I think what has happened in the 1990s has gone far beyond the expectations of most of us.

Berners-Lee: In 1989 in Europe, the Internet was arriving, but most of the physicists were using VAXes with DECnet. At that point, it wasn't clear from preceding history that it would be possible for the world to [converge] with standards the way it did.

How do you see things evolving from here -- standardization on Ethernet, IP and the Web?

Metcalfe: When you ask, "What's next after IP?" the room seizes up. No one can imagine anything taking the place of IP. That obviously, at some point, is going to change.

Berners-Lee: Whenever something becomes ubiquitous, whatever the next version is you call it IP still. For example, the phone system: It's been out there for ages. Nobody said, "What will we call the telephone after we've thrown away the [old] exchanges." They just kept calling it the telephone and service continued and technology developed.

Metcalfe: The Ethernet that Eric [Benhamou] sells today is not what I invented 26 years ago. But we still call it Ethernet.

Berners-Lee: The more interesting question is whether this amazing standardization, which has gotten us to where we are and has allowed the Internet to explode, will actually continue, or will it disintegrate? One of the questions is, in 10 years time, will we be dreaming of the nostalgic days when there was just one Ethernet, just one IP, and just one HTML? XML is coming out and it allows anybody to invent a new markup language. There could be 20 billion markup languages out there.

Do you see another Xerox PARC out there inventing the next Ethernet?

Metcalfe: My own take on that is that the next Xerox PARC will be a university or a bunch of universities because that seems to be the emerging place for investment and research dollars.

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