Book gives lie to McNealy's fire

By the time most of you read this the games will be over. The athletes will have headed home from Sydney with medals and medical chests packed away.

By the time most of you read this the games will be over. The athletes will have headed home from Sydney with medals and medical chests packed away. And the procession of billionaire bosses of US computer companies whom we never suspected of being sports fans will have flown home in their Lear Jets, not to be seen in this part of the world again until, well, maybe the next America's Cup. Can we wait? I think so. As you'd expect of people playing such a pivotal role in the new economy, it wasn't all fun and games during their time downunder. Microsoft's Bill Gates and Novell's Eric Schmidt made time to attend the Melbourne meeting of economic movers and shakers on globalisation; and the real purpose of Sun boss Scott McNealy's visit, so he said, was to attend a board meeting in Sydney of General Electric. Of course, it was purely coincidental that GE's board was gathering in the Olympic city while the games were in progress. (And by the way, McNealy says there's no substance to rumours that he might succeed the legendary Jack Welch as head of GE. I have to confess to knowing nothing of the Welch legend. I know he wrote a book about it but, to continue the confessional tone, I've never been able to make much headway with how-to-run-a-mega-corporation tomes.) I deviated from my usual reading diet, however, during the flight back from Canberra a week ago, where I'd gone to hear McNealy speak to the Australian National Press Club. The press club address is something of an institution and the walls of the club rooms are adorned with photos of past speakers ranging from the Dalai Lama to shiny-headed Peter Garrett of Midnight Oil. About the only thing McNealy had in common with those two was similar hair length; I didn't once hear him mention Tibet during his address, and nor did he have much to say about the environment. There was a good turn-out for what was McNealy's second appearance at the club. (He was last there four years ago.) With parliament in recess so Prime Minister John Howard could take advantage of the photo opportunities presented by the games, there clearly wasn't much else for the press corp to amuse itself with. So a couple of hundred journalists packed in under the bright lights necessary for the televising of the event. (Yes, this is the kind of material that gets aired by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. And I used to think I supported public service broadcasting …) I'm only kidding, of course. McNealy's address would have been a real eye-opener for a wider audience than the IT press, who are the usual beneficiaries of the futuristic outpourings of such people. It may just have been that he was fresh from the GE meeting but one of his forecasts was of lightbulbs which one day will be monitored via the AC power network so that their manufacturer will know to replace them even before they've blown. And another was the monitoring system in your car which will broadcast to nearby petrol stations when your tank is on empty to set up an auction for the best-priced fuel. All of which will run on Sun servers. His theme, he helpfully spelt out for us, was that the Internet, far from being overhyped, suffered from too little of it. Examples like the online lightbulbs and petrol tanks were just two of hundreds of everyday devices whose operation would be revolutionised by the Internet. Have I mentioned Java yet? Yes, Java would be the underlying software making everything work. And have we slagged off Microsoft yet? Microsoft took Java, added a few drops of poison and turned it into Windows. McNealy says he can't help himself having a dig at the convict software company from Redmond. Nor can he resist a swipe at Hewlett-Packard, the printer company. And Sun itself? Well, if Lucent and its ilk sell dial-tone switches, Sun does Web-tone switches. What about privacy, another of McNealy's pet subjects? You have none; get over it, he says. It was an impressive performance, living up to the billing of those who'd described McNealy as a feisty fellow. He could even claim genuine sporting credentials - a golf handicap of three and regular amateur ice hockey appearances - to explain his interest in the games. (Hates those sports that have judges, though; only likes the ones with a clear winner.) So, as I said earlier, I broke with habit on the flight home and started to plough through "High Noon", an account of Sun's rise, handed out to us as we left the press club, thinking it might be a revealing read. It was, all right. I discovered most of what McNealy had treated us to during his address was in the book. So was a quote from Carol Bartz, a former Sun marketer, describing McNealy as a bad interview before he learned how to employ the one-liner. I'm glad I heard him after he had the lessons. But I'll be checking the script's been reworked before making the trip for his next appearance at the press club.

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