A technology blog for The Economist Group IT team

Friday, May 23, 2003

30th birthday of Ethernet 

The 30th birthday of Ethernet (capital E because the name is in fact a trade mark of Xerox) has been covered in a variety of media recently (not just the tech media, either - the FT and The Economist had articles about it). I suspect that the reason that these publications covered it this time round rather than five years ago (to my knowledge) is that in January 2002, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center became Palo Alto Research Center Incorporated and Xerox was therefore better able to make money from it's innovations. Better late than never. It's worth remembering that Bob Metcalfe (who was the guy from Xerox who went on to found 3Com to sell Ethernet adapters) outlined the idea of Ethernet in a patent after Xerox had developed the first laser printer and Smalltalk (the first object-oriented programming language with an integrated user interface, overlapping windows, integrated documents, and cut & paste editor). Both these, too, were ahead of their time.

I'm one of those that managed a Token Ring (IBM) and Ethernet network in the 1980s and I have to say that at the time (well Token Ring didn't really develop too far) there wasn't very much to distinguish the two from a practical point of view. The difference was that Ethernet became an open standard (pretty much like Linux, but wait a minute, SCO are suing IBM) whereas Token Ring remained proprietry (like, well, where do I start?....Windows, Solaris,...). Token Ring always seemed to me to be very sound technically - whoever has the token can talk (now that's a way to run a meeting!) - but Big Blue kept it proprietry (like a lot of things then). I'm not sure that there's a moral to this story - IBM seem to have learned the lesson, but Microsoft are doing very well, thank-you, ignoring it. A good outline of how Ethernet works is on howstuffworks.com.

I'm delaying my choice of PDA/phone - there's still too much of a gap between phone ease of use and PDA functionality. The Palm Tungsten W is nearly there, but when I dug a little deeper it seemed strange that the device has basically old innards (compare the specs of it and the Tungsten C). A while ago it had seemed that this convergance of technology would arrive soon (both are handheld and essentially consumer devices), but we're still not there. What chance, then, for Microsoft who have embarked upon a far more difficult track with their aim to have us all run our TVs and Hi-Fis from a Windows machine?

To us techies this is not as alien as to consumer (I know of a colleague who has rigged up something similar already), but I think it's a long way off. The problem is that consumer electronics need to be easy to operate (you can do pretty much all you need on a TV with five buttons - on/off volume up & down channel up & down). Using a machine that needs to boot up in the first place doen't seem the right way to go.

However, some consumer technology that's becoming available in the UK now is a fantastic example of ease of use made possible by forward thinking infrastructure and nifty consumer electronics. We've always had pretty crap radio reception in our kitchen and since the aerial broke, FM is pretty impossible to get, even using makeshift replacement aerials. We decided to get a CD player/radio combo as a replacement and when I was browsing I saw the new-ish, cheap (still £99) Digital Radio (no, not one with a digital display) made by Pure. This got me thinking (our kitchen is downstairs and even with a working aerial reception's not that good), but I really wanted one with a CD player. Then I saw the GPS280 made by Goodmans. Yes, it's a bit platsicky and a bit big, but on the basis that I could bring it back within 14 days and get a refund, I decided to give it a go. Now here's the good bit: you plug it in, press a "Setup" button, wait a few seconds for it to build a station list and there you have it! Press "Up" to go to the next station (alphabetically) and "Select" to listen. Press one button on a small remote control to set the one you're listening to as a pre-set. The sound quality (even compared to FM) is fantastic (even on the slightly tinny Goodmans) with no hint of a crackle or hiss. The LCD display shows the station name and has a scrolling space for information provided by the station. xfm sensibly show the name and artist of the track playing, while Radio 4 (while Today is on) shows the e-mail address for the programme. I'm a fan; go out and buy one (the Goodmans is £129 in Dixons).

I expect that those of you who have seen The Matrix Offloaded after reading last Monday's entry will be wondering why Trinity was hacking into a machine on her internal network (take a look at the screen again; the image is here if it's gone from the homepage). Just goes to show that you should always be wary of the risk from inside. On a related (to 10. addresses) note, it's interesting (well I thought so) to see who was around early enough to have grabbed their own Class A network addresses.

You may have noticed the link to a discussion form on the right; please use it, but keep it clean.


... although Sky TV does have the edge over digital radio sets by virtue of its live tractor-pulling coverage from Eindhoven on Eurosport.
Paul Williams 06-03-2003 07:09 AM ET (US)

...or if you want to listen to the radio in the kitchen and your tv's upstairs.
Mike Seery 06-03-2003 04:20 AM ET (US)

Of course if you have Sky satellite you can get most of the radio stations that broadcast on DAB in the same quality through there at no extra expense. Not much use if you haven't got Sky

Stewart Robinson 06-02-2003 05:50 AM ET (US)

The Goodmans is a DAB radio plus an FM/AM radio (so you can still get crackle and hiss if you like that sort of thing)
Mike Seery 05-27-2003 08:00 AM ET (US)

Is the Goodman a digital radio? The description describes a digital tuner with an
analogue radio. Or is that what all digital radios really are?eb

elisabeth butolo 05-27-2003 07:38 AM ET (US)

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