Three questions for Robert Metcalfe

Creator of Metcalfe's Law, IEEE medalist and 3Com founder on the new year and the one gone by

Robert Metcalfe is a general partner at Polaris Venture Partners, a venture capital company in the U.S. Metcalfe co-invented Ethernet and founded 3Com in 1979. The following year, Metcalfe received the Association for Computing Machinery Grace Murray Hopper Award for his work in developing local networks. Metcalfe, who has also served as a publisher and columnist for InfoWorld magazine, was also awarded the IEEE Medal of Honor in 1996 and was bestowed with the National Medal of Technology by President Bush in 2003. He is also the creator of Metcalfe's Law, which states that the value of a network grows proportionally to the increase in the square of the number of the system's users. Metcalfe spoke recently with Thomas Hoffman.

Which IT story took you by surprise in 2006, and why?

The social networking bubble was a bit of a surprise. We're seeing a torrent of these flashy social network start-ups and the higher reaches of the Web. It has a lot of traction now.

What surprises are in store for IT users in 2007?

From my point of view, there's little new in IT, particularly in enterprise software. Video might take [your] readers by surprise. There are three major forces -- video, mobility and embedded -- all three of which are nipping at the edge of IT. Video burdens IP networks, and they haven't quite seen the value proposition, but CIOs will eventually have to embrace it instead of fighting it. For mobility, the platform of choice is increasingly cell phones and less desktops. Cell phones are now a platform for enterprise applications. Embedded software, such as RFID, hasn't quite made it yet. To make enterprise applications more aware of inventory or the supply chain through RFID and sensor networks -- of the three things, this is the furthest away from impacting CIOs.

What will be the biggest IT story of the new year?

It's not going to be [Microsoft's] Vista. The more I hear about Vista, the more it sounds like it's not a departure. I hear a pleading for something more interesting than Vista. I would go back to video. We just had [Google's] big YouTube transaction. I take that as a harbinger, and the surprise will come from that direction. Just as the PC invaded the enterprise from the bottom, from the fringes two decades ago.

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