Sun's McNealy delivers Microsoft jokes, predicts future
LAS VEGAS (IDG) -- Scott McNealy had a serious message about the IT industry to deliver here, but the chairman and chief executive officer of Sun Microsystems Inc. couldn't bring himself to deliver it until he'd cracked every gag in the book about arch-rival Microsoft Corp.
"Anyone heard any good monopolist jokes lately?" McNealy quipped as he walked on stage at the Comdex trade show, echoing a similar gag about lawyer jokes that Microsoft Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Bill Gates delivered during his speech here Sunday night.
McNealy has long been one of the most vocal critics of Microsoft and its PC-based computing model, and the Sun chief couldn't contain his delight about a U.S. court's recent determination that Microsoft has abused its monopoly position in the computer operating-systems market.
"I've had a pretty good couple of weeks, I don't know about you all," McNealy said, apparently to the delight of the thousands of show goers who turned out to watch him speak here.
But McNealy did find time to pitch a serious message as well: that software applications should be free, the PC is dying, and that everything and everybody will be connected to the Internet.
"It's not just workstations or servers that are getting hooked to the Internet, but everything with a digital or electronic heartbeat," McNealy said.
Information is a utility, and should be available as a service that is as easy to use and manage as the telephone and electrical power system, McNealy said. Users don't know what software runs in a telephone switchboard or a nuclear power plant -- and they shouldn't care what software operates their computers, he said.
Software applications for businesses and consumers should all be managed on large servers that are managed by service providers. Users will pay to use the applications the same way they pay a water bill or a heating bill, he said.
"The new model here says there is no operating system industry and there is no applications industry -- it's all going free," McNealy said.
Helped by a Sun engineer, McNealy demonstrated StarOffice, the company's productivity suite that will be offered to users at no charge over the Internet by service providers. One million users have downloaded a version of the productivity suit since it was launched a few months ago, according to McNealy.
"You all got a free copy of StarOffice -- who said there's no free lunch?" McNealy asked. "You could have paid $800 for a copy of Windows 2000 instead and helped debug it," he quipped.
Sun, of course, makes most of its money from supplying the servers that will host the "free" applications.
Users also don't need the power and complexity of a personal computer to access the Internet. The future lies in smart mobile phones, handheld computers, set-top boxes and gaming machines like Sony Corp.'s forthcoming Playstation 2, he said.
"That thing should be regulated by the government -- it's like a supercomputer," he said, referring to the Playstation 2, which was demonstrated here by Sony on Monday.
Sun also demonstrated SunRay 1, the network appliance it launched in September. The idea behind SunRay is to eliminate the need for exclusive-use, personal desktop computers. Users slip a smart card into SunRay's slot to access their personal files from the server to whatever appliance they are using at the moment, according to McNealy.
Sun will roll out between 20,000 and 25,000 SunRays on its campus for its employees, McNealy said. "We render their complete desktop on a server," he said.
Traditional PCs with full-featured operating systems are unnecessarily rich in features and too complex to operate and manage, McNealy said. A better route to go is to use a variety of small devices that access applications from the Internet written in Sun's Java programming language, he said.
With the need for personal computers and operating systems now defunct, "Comdex should not exist," McNealy said.
"I hope I'm not raining on the PC show here but this is how I see it; it's inevitable," he added.
McNealy's humor sat well with attendees, who also praised Sun's emphasis on servers, rather than PCs, as the containers of information.
"I think the model is the way to go," said Paul Taira, technology and training analyst for St. Joseph Health System in Orange, California.
But Taira said SunRay's 100M-bit bandwidth requirements are out of reach of most companies. Currently, "it's a little restrictive," he said.
Another attendee liked McNealy's emphasis on SunRay's ease of management. McNealy said that IS staff can manage the appliances from the servers, and one Windows NT manager said that he spends most of his time helping his users.
"User interaction is way too complex and he's made it transparent," said Michael Butler, network administrator at Tarrant Apparel Group, a clothing manufacturer in Los Angeles.
But not everyone appreciated McNealy's anti-Microsoft humor.
"He was slamming Microsoft really hard," said George Antonio, engineer specialist at Scott & White, a hospital system in Temple, Texas. "I think he has used the federal government as his tool, not necessarily for the general welfare."
McNealy was joined briefly on stage by a General Motors Corp. executive, who hosted a demonstration of the upcoming 2000 Seville, which he claimed will be "the first production car available to the public that connects you to the Internet."
Judging by the demonstration, GM has some tweaking to do before it launches the product. A GM representative used a speech-enabled application to check his e-mail and track his stocks, which worked fine.
But when the GM executive on stage tried to use a Palm VII handheld device to remotely honk the car horn, there was a lengthy, awkward silence before it worked. A moment later, when the GM executive tried to flash the car's headlights, the horn sounded again.
Scott McNealy's "Top 10 signs that Microsoft just bought 20 percent of Las Vegas"
10. Magicians Siegfried and Roy have a new trick that makes Judge Jackson disappear.
9. On every fourth pull the slot machines have to be rebooted.
8. The rollercoaster at the New York New York hotel only goes down.
7. The pirates at the Treasure Island hotel really steal your money.
6. The headquarters for Windows 2000 marketing moves to the Mirage hotel.
5. Crooner Wayne Newton changes his signature tune to "Start Me Up."
4. All new development stops immediately.
3. Microsoft buys 20 percent of Reno and Atlantic City and puts Windows CE in all the gaming machines
2. The showgirls all strip down to their Visual Basics.
1. The biggest game in town is Monopoly.
Sun CEO touts software as service
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