Sun's McNealy: "Don't go at Microsoft alone"

Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy admits he couldn't buy the press and publicity that has flowed his way as a result of his company being in Microsoft's gunsights. But he says it also means that if Sun can't deliver on its promises 'we become another roadkill'. McNealy figures he knows how to beat Microsoft - by focusing on the customers, not taking on the juggernaut head-on. He spoke to senior Computerworld US editorial staff at the recent Java Internet Business Expo in New York.

Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy met with Computerworld executive editor Maryfran Johnson, senior editor Sharon Gaudin and senior editor Carol Sliwa during the recent Java Internet Business Expo in New York. He talked about Sun's rivalry with Microsoft, Corel's Java-based office suite dying on the vine and Sun's relationship with Apple Computer.

Computerworld: Aren't you benefiting from the publicity of Microsoft bashing Sun?

McNealy: There's no way we could pay for all the media coverage, attention and brand development that Microsoft is throwing our way ... but it's a double-edged sword. We either provide the value that we've talked about to the customers, or we become another roadkill.

Are your customers worried that the wealthiest company and man in the world are attacking Sun?

They care whether we go out of business because fundamentally we're running mission-critical components for their businesses. Our customers are very, very nervous. But Java is a very, very different strategy than Windows. Java is solving a very different problem. Java is solving network computing.

Microsoft has said it won't ship Sun's Java Foundation Classes in its Java products. How are you going to deal with that?

As a licensee, they have some responsibilities to maintain that right. They have made statements like this before, for instance about not bundling JavaBeans, which would have violated their responsibilities. And sure enough, right when they had to, they capitulated, compromised, reversed, 180'ed or implemented their plan all along - and shipped Beans.

What if Microsoft breaches its contract?

Windows users do three things. One, they go to Netscape and download their browser. Second, they come to us and get a Java runtime [Dynamic Link Library] that we will download for them. And third, they go to the [independent software vendor] who will bundle whatever Java components are not available on the Windows environment. The last thing Microsoft wants is for every Windows customer to discover the Sun and Netscape Web sites.

Corel came out with a Java-based office suite and then withdrew it, saying it needed more work. That doesn't look like a good sign for Java.

I think IBM and Lotus are doing the smart thing with Kona Beans. They're putting the Java functionality in Beans, as opposed to rewriting in Java the old C, C++ hairball. Corel was headed down the hairball route.

Microsoft has been saying Java is nothing more than another language. Is that claim still working for them?

The Java programming language is just a language. The Java Card is just a smart card. The Java Chip is just a chip. The Java programming tools are just development tools. The Java Computer is just a Java Computer. The Java Server is just some software services. But the Java programming language is just a programming language. That's a true statement!

You've watched numerous companies fight Microsoft, and they have all failed. What have you learned from that?

Don't go at them alone. Don't try and out-fat-client them. Don't try and out-proprietary interface them. And don't try and out-advertise them. Don't try and out-influence them. The way to beat Microsoft is to listen to your customer, provide products they will want, provide real good quality service and support, and enlist everybody else in what you're doing. They've never had anybody else come at them that way.

Apple was one of the companies you had enlisted on your side. How much does it hurt that Microsoft is in bed with Apple now?

They are not a big loss, and Apple continues to say they will ship a 100 percent pure application-compatible environment. ... The last thing Apple can afford is a customer who can't buy a Macintosh because it won't run Java applications. They've got enough challenges without telling the world they can't run Java.

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