Casual Sun boss takes swipe at Microsoft

It's usual for visiting computer executives to appear before New Zealand audiences dressed to the nines but not so Sun head Scott McNealy.

It’s usual for visiting computer industry executives to front up to presentations dressed to the nines, so Sun chief executive Scott McNealy seemed to have brought a piece of Silicon Valley to Wellington last week when he turned up very casual, in a sports coat and knock-about trousers.

He was at a function to mark the donation of a $250,000 computer system to the New Zealand educational community, which becomes the 32nd SunSite in the world. The project is being jointly administered by the University of Waikato, Victoria University and the 2020 Communications Trust, a charitable trust established by Wellington City Council as part of its Info City strategy.

Earlier, McNealy had visited a number of Sun clients in New Zealand, including Air New Zealand where he received a bit of chivvying--it seems he had flown to New Zealand on an opposition airline. And that casual look wasn’t planned. The airline delivered McNealy safely but his baggage is who knows where.

The big deal for Sun this quarter will be the announcement of the Java computer. “I can’t give you any details at this stage,” McNealy said, only to relent a little later and say “a Java computer will be to the user what a telephone handset is to a caller. It’s all in the switch.

“There will be no disk, no CD-Rom, no floppy drive and no Microsoft operating environment. You will just turn it on and it will work. All the microprocessor power will be applied to the applications.”

So what about potential bandwidth problems when downloading applications from the network?

“Bandwidth is false,” McNealy says. “That’s because you won’t download Word--you’ll just download a small word processor. In fact, the browser will have enough word-processing capability.”

He says, however, the browser has become a 32Mb hairball. “The biggest problem is Microsoft and Netscape have too many developers working on their browsers.”

Everything Sun does these days involves Java, particularly including its servers, he says. “What some people don’t seem to realise is that a Java client without a Java server is useless.”

The visit to New Zealand was very much a whistle-stop tour before eight days in Australia, but McNealy made all the right noises. “New Zealand is not an economic power but it is one of the more sophisticated technology environments I’ve seen, what with economic deregulation and your telecomms.”

And some not so right.

“The one thing that impresses me is how much of your information business has been captured and controlled by Microsoft.

“All those little New Zealand kids, when they grow up, will pay $150 a year to Microsoft. I want to thank everyone in New Zealand for solving all the budget deficits we will have down the road.

“You can’t say that in the US because we love a monopoly.”

There is an alternative, he says: HTML. “Java and the Web will not be locked into anyone. There’s now no excuse for that--the answer is the Web. This is potentially an opportunity where New Zealand can step up and do the right thing.

“When anthropologists look back they will discover the planetary standard of living in the 1990s had stalled massively because of all the man-centuries dedicated to Microsoft Office. It has done absolutely nothing for productivity.”

Java will be everywhere, he says.

“I was talking to Fisher & Paykel about a Java washing machine--they’re getting there. You won’t know you have a computer--you’ll just get there.

“It’s happening. People all over are implementing, and all the telcos and the ISPs are doing the infrastructure.

“Microsoft was once the answer; it’s not any more.”

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