McNealy fires Java barbs

Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy has responded to Microsoft’s latest gambit in the Java cold war in the manner accustomed — by making a joke of it.

A group of vendors led by Microsoft recently wrote McNealy a letter urging him to surrender control of Java — the language, the platform and the brand — to a neutral standards body. “Microsoft telling me how to manage an open interface is like WC Fields lecturing to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on what to drink,” McNealy told a friendly crowd at Oracle OpenWorld in Los Angeles last week. “Or Mike Tyson giving culinary advice.”

But, perhaps foreshadowing the ISO’s rejection of Sun’s bid for ISO status for Java — for reasons similar to those raised by Microsoft — McNealy said that regardless of the bid’s success, “we have aped, cloned and ripped off the ISO process to a tee”.

McNealy also dwelt on JavaCard — “the ultimate thin client” — and was caught by one enterprising photographer emulating the posture of an unfortunate driver unfortunate to have to carry “a smartcard big enough to run Windows NT” in his back pocket.

The Sun boss said that JavaCards were soon to be issued to all the company’s employees. He then used his to sell a single share of Sun stock in real time over the Internet — and to pocket the digital cash he received in return.

Smartcards were a new theme at the 1997 OpenWorld. All 6000 or so registered delegates received an NC Card provided by Oracle subsidiary Network Computer (NCI). The cards allowed access to an internal messaging and browsing system based on NCI-branded thin clients built by Funai.

Like all NCs based on the NCI spec, the Funai devices have built-in smartcard readers. But the card story still has a long way to go. The NC card is not yet a Java card — and when it is, it won’t be the same as Sun’s JavaCard. It will conform to APIs worked out by the OpenCard alliance, a group driven by Oracle, IBM and others.

“OpenCard and JavaCard are actually very close,” says Jeff Menz, NCI’s director of product management. “JavaCard is a superset of what the OpenCard framework allows for. JavaCard implementation can be expanded to OpenCard APIs. Which is actually the true beauty of the situation.

“There’s nothing intrinsically prohibitive at the technology level about including OpenCard APIs on a JavaCard or a Mondex card or anything else. Strategically, it might be a different matter.”

Menz does, however, take issue with one of McNealy’s onstage party tricks — when he brandished a Mondex-style electronic wallet. McNealy told the crowd that he and his golfing buddy would settle their bets in electronic cash straight after the round by placing their respective cards in the wallet.

“An offline transfer right there on the golf course?” queries Menz. “No. The transaction has got to be cleared. Otherwise you don’t have non-repudiatability, right? The only way to use a smartcard for a financial transaction is to maintain non-repudiatability at all times during the transaction.

“If you break that, even for the 10 minutes you’re on the golf course, you lose that. The only security you have is physical security. If you and I had bet $100 on the game, we’re going to the bar — obviously — and at the terminal there I put my card in and say ‘transfer’ to your name.”

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