back to article How God and übergeek Ron Crane saved 3Com's bacon

Over 30 years ago, the company formed by Ethernet inventor Robert Metcalfe, 3Com Corporation, was teetering on bankruptcy. What saved it was the monomaniacal perfectionism of one engineer, and his refusal to ship the company's most important product until he was damn well good and ready. At the Ethernet Innovation Summit last …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Arachnoid

    Change the time frame?

    Makes me wonder if this would still happen these days given the rapid turnover required in business ideas and management patience or the lack of it.

    A pity Mr Crane didnt get at least a cent for every card sold......

    1. Ed Vim

      Re: Change the time frame?

      For any IT geek who hasn't read Steven Levy's, "Hackers" you should go out and buy it. Such a great narrative on the early days of the computer industry back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Development was filled with innovation, collaboration, and sharing of ideas. Now we live in a time where proprietary walled gardens isolate everybody and everything from each other, with the priority always focused on short term profits that benefit the select few. The Steve Wozniak Apple computer existed in a completely different culture compared to the Steve Jobs Apple computer.

      1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

        Re: Change the time frame?

        For any IT geek who hasn't read Steven Levy's, "Hackers" you should go out and buy it. Such a great narrative on the early days of the computer industry back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s.

        I actually found Hackers unreadable - I got through the section on the TMRC and then gave up. There's great historical material there, but I found Levy's hagiography and relentless breathless-admiration writing style impossibly cloying. I've looked at some other Levy books, and they suffered the same problem.

        I'd much rather read Kidder's The Soul of a New Machine again, or Stephenson's In the Beginning was the Command Line (though that's rather less history and rather more anecdote), or Swaine's Fire in the Valley, or the mutterings of the Ancient Relics on alt.folklore.computers. Many of the ACM Turing lectures have really interesting historical reflections too, though generally from a personal rather than scholarly perspective.

  2. Anonymous Vulture

    And if he decided to add another feature....

    ...3Com would have crashed and burned? It's nice to see that this worked out, 3Com used to be make some really nice kit. But far too often you see some engineers engaged in this behavior on items that really just should be declared done. Polishing the cannonball as it were. To be fair you do see some programmers shipping code marked final that doesn't deserve to see the light of day as a pre-alpha leak.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: And if he decided to add another feature....

      Worked for them briefly. Many of the engineers working on the code said they'd never buy any 3Com kit and use it. Hardly a good sign. But then they were so obsessed with the share price that they laid off loads of people in the early 2000s.

      They had two people working on the web interfaces for their switches and both were laid off, end result? nobody to do the graphics for the web interface. You ended up with QA people trying to do it or managers having a go. Luckily I was experienced with pixel based graphics (not illustrator and this modern stuff) from my days with Deluxe Paint, so I managed to made it look as expected.

  3. K

    Love 3COM..

    I still buy the "3COM" switches that HP has rebranded over any other manufacturers - Especially the HP v1910's (3COM 2920's) which cost £200 each and will stand toe to toe with other switches that cost 5x as much (Cisco et al, is overhyped, overpriced and underwhelmed).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Love 3COM..

      Well, the V1910 looked interesting at first, but then I saw that strange ARP table limit of 256 entries mentioned within the release notes...?

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    So, erm,

    Where did the fictional being commonly known as "God" come into it?

    1. Johan Bastiaansen

      Re: So, erm,

      Who do you think that lightning strike came from?

    2. RIBrsiq

      Re: A fair analysis

      I hope you were in a building with a well-grounded copper roof as you wrote that...

    3. Onomatopoeia

      Re: So, erm,

      Substitute "God" for "Luck"!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So, erm,

        > Substitute "God" for "Luck"!

        OK, perhaps I needed to insert the <sarcasm> tag....I didn't think I was being that subtle. :O

  5. Herby

    Then there is the 3C501 card.

    Enough said.

    1. Joe Harrison

      Re: Then there is the 3C501 card.

      And the 3C509... about 75% of my "omg netware server down" support calls were caused by these.

      Although to be fair 3Com clearly said they were supposed to be for desktop use only, not servers, but people didn't read the instructions and put them in anyway.

      1. Peter27x
        Thumb Up

        Re: Then there is the 3C501 card.

        The hours I've spent trying to get the 3c509 combo cards to work... As a student I got a job on the back of admitting to have struggled and succeed in getting these cards to work. Truthfully excellent cards, it's just the PnP drivers in Windows that were the pain I suspect. I chucked my 3c509 last week in a clear out...

  6. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

    And the real points of the story are:

    1. The building did not have appropriate lightning protection.

    2. I am guessing that he added a surge protection circuit, not specifically a lightning protection circuit - this makes his insistence much more reasonable in my mind.

    3. It pays to be lucky...

    1. Johan Bastiaansen

      There's no such thing as lightning protection

      in electronics.

      I remember a client, a big steel construction company. Lightning struck, went over the network and burned a hole in every network card. Where does that leave your lightning protection?

      1. Mephistro
        Thumb Up

        Re: There's no such thing as lightning protection (@ Johan Bastiaansen)

        Circa 1994 we had a HUGE electric storm in the area. I called several of my customers to make sure they were taking the appropriate measures, which included turning their kit off and unplugging the power cords, just in case. For one of my customers-who had a 'biggish' network (~50 machines), this wasn't enough, so after unplugging the main UPS from the mains power, when lightning struck the building it fried several components in the server and other machines, including the server's quite expensive SCSI card, several network cards and several surge protectors in the power outlets.

        Considering that a lightning the closest thing to a NMP you can get without an actual nuclear bomb, they got off lightly.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: There's no such thing as lightning protection

        Indeed, even if you switch the kit off you need a damn big gap between the contacts to stop lightning crossing them. It's jumping from the sky to the ground so a couple of mm won't stop it.

      3. JCitizen

        Re: There's no such thing as lightning protection

        True - and lightning does what it wants to no matter what the well laid plans of mice and men are; but I think they are talking about that cutoff switch that is run by a servo on the card that literally disconnects from the Ethernet before the surge hits the circuit. This is not your ordinary "surge protector", this is a cut off switch. We never put dialup adapters in our remote offices without this being onboard the card either. If you didn't do it, the POTs line "surge protector" was not going to save you.

    2. Don Jefe

      Re: And the real points of the story are:

      You've got to remember that in the 80's and even well into the 90's just plugging a PC into the dirty power in commercial buildings was as likely to fry it as not. We take it for granted that PC's are very tolerant of power fluctuations today but just 15ish years ago neither the computers nor the power supplies were getting along. It was a different world of mains line conditioners and where GFC was for hospitals.

      1. T. F. M. Reader Silver badge

        Re: And the real points of the story are:

        That was exactly my point - insisting on designing a surge protector circuit even if no one in marketing thought about it is eminently reasonable.

      2. Alfie

        Re: And the real points of the story are:

        Used to work in an office out in the sticks on a dodgy grid connection and we used to get brown outs and the like often. We had a 50:50 mix of IBM PCs and Macs at the time and the PCs would crash when the lights flickered while the Macs stayed up.

        Also back in the day when speccing a new PC one of the first things on the list was a 3C509 card. Life was much simpler then. :-)

        1. Sandtitz Silver badge

          @Alfie Re: 3c509

          I don't recall the network stuff to be simpler back then. 3c509 was an ISA card and at times required a separate configuration tool to set the IRQ, IO, DMA etc. settings and the ISA PnP usually didn't work at all. (though ISA PnP never worked well in other cards either)

  7. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    Well, well...

    Nowadays you have to justify yourself if you so much as spend more than half an our on a PROPOSAL.

    Engineering? We will outsource that to India. And BYOD!

  8. BornToWin

    It's unfortunate...

    ...that quality engineering, design and manufacturing is so under appreciated. Instead rushed to market, half-baked CRAP is what CEO's want so that they can get their $700 Million dollar annual compensation package while using Chinese slave labor to produce their products. Think: Tim Cook.

    1. Magnus_Pym

      Re: It's unfortunate...

      One of the biggest problems in the manufacturing sector is the banking sector. Since the 80's if you had money and are willing to take risks you could make big returns overnight on the stock market. Most of the real money is in 'funds' which have no sense pride in what they are creating.

      When investment come from that sort of background it's not surprising that short term cash-ins win over long term stable incomes. Who knows, maybe the banking crisis will push more money into proper thoughtful investment and will tern out to be a benefit. Shan't hold my breath though.

  9. asdf

    >that 3Com is the most successful acquisition that HP has ever made."

    Congrats to what was 3Com but honestly that's not exactly the highest bar is it? Any acquisition HP doesn't write down billions in goodwill in the first couple of years is a success these days.

    1. Sandtitz Silver badge


      I'd say Compaq and now 3PAR were good acquisitions, though I cannot ascertain how successful they were. HP lacked in the server department before Compaq merger and the very recent storage results showed that 3PAR is the only positive part of their portfolio.

      But for every 3Com, there's the odd Palm or Autonomy these days.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    And how much did Mr. Crane make out of this?

    The cynic in me figures he was #1 on the next layoff list.

This topic is closed for new posts.