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'We're In a Different Era,' Says McNealy as He Heralds Network Computing's 'Next Level'

'We're In a Different Era,' Says McNealy as He Heralds Network Computing's 'Next Level'

(September 15, 2003) - So far as Java is concerned, last week was truly The Week That Was.

It was the week that saw Greg Papadopoulos go on record for the first time since succeeding Bill Joy as chief scientist of Sun; the week that saw Scott McNealy giving a highly detailed interview to the San Francisco Chronicle; and the week in which Sun’s Ingrid Van Den Hoogen, senior director of Java and strategic software marketing, confirmed that Sun's enterprise software stack – Orion – isn't yet mobile-enabled, and nor is Project Rave yet ready for prime time, two components that developers had been hoping might make it to market already this Fall.

Of the three executives, one turns obviously to McNealy first for clues as to what we might all expect tomorrow when he keynotes at the SunNetwork Conference 2003 that opens tomorrow in San Francisco's Moscone Center.

After giving the opening address from 9:00AM to 10:00AM tomorrow, McNealy will hand over to the Java dynamo himself, EVP of Software Jonathan Schwartz, whose articulate speaking presence and sharp strategic mind will serve to remind anyone who is in any doubt of the truth of McNealy's assertion to the Chronicle that, 18 months after appointing them all, he is still supremely confident that this is the team is what he wants "to take Sun to the next generation."

"We're in a different era," Sun's chairman, president, and chief executive officer told the interviewer, referring to the post-Zander, post-Joy world that Sun is now entering. "We need to be more aligned in terms of skill sets and we've got that with the new team. We've got exactly who I wanted in there to run the joint."

Papadopoulos, also speaking to the technology press last week, was quick to point out that Bill Joy, a Sun co-founder, is "not the sort of person you replace. His responsibilities are really easy to assign, but you can't replace him as a person." As CTO, Papadopoulos already has quite a lot on his plate - such as deploying Sun's $500 million R & D spending every quarter. ("That's fundamentally the thing that I worry about," he noted.) So the question is, while he is ensuring that Sun goes on delivering its signature product, network computing, and keeps the R & D drilling rig over the hole, who inherits the role of pathfinder? Who peers over the technology horizon and ensures that Sun stays ahead of other high-tech companies?

Perhaps it will be McNealy himself. Although he says visionary work isn't his strong suit, in his interview he waxed positively lyrical about two things above all. The first was that Sun has $5.7 billion of cash in the bank and has generated positive cash flow from operations for 35 straight quarters. But the second was perhaps more significant, from the point of view of trying to see what new trajectory if any Sun might now be on.

He spoke in detail about how Sun's 38,500 employees these days eat in their own kitchen by using Java cards in the same kind of new-style computing environment that McNealy insists we're all moving to and that, as he puts it, "will atomize large organizations in an interesting way."

"I give all my employees a Java card, including myself," McNealy explained. "A few of my staff members do not have offices. They share. What you do is you come in and get a good parking spot and find a good office and stick your smart card in a flat panel display. No disks, no CDs, no floppy. [I] stick this card in and the Java chip goes out and roams the network and finds my desktop which is running at an instant on a server and it downloads it in two seconds and I authenticate myself with multifactor authentication. That is now my office. Everywhere I go in North America, I stick my smart card in, there's my desktop."

What catches the attention is not so much the fact that McNealy chose to adduce how Sun itself - as a result of moving to this environment - now saves $4 million a year in energy costs alone by not putting a space heater in everybody's office, how it has zero moving costs, and how it has no viruses. What was more striking was that he did so with such passion and conviction: "We have Sunrays [computer terminals] in our lunch room. Our sales reps don't go to their offices anymore. They go to the lunch room and use the Sunrays located in our iWork Cafes in our cafeterias. They put their smart card in and there's your desktop."

"All this will change the whole anthropology of what a company campus looks like," he said, in almost Gates-like, "Business @ the Speed of Thought" mode.

Which brings us to "Project Orion" and Sun's Ingrid Van Den Hoogen. Because business is what Sun is most definitely interested in doing. Van Den Hoogen told a reporter this week that Sun has already begun closing Project Orion deals. Even more interestingly, she mentioned specifically that the Orion package has been used to up-sell a customer (no names at this point) originally interested in just one component of Sun's server stack to something much more comprehensive: unlimited use of all Sun software across their entire development staff.

It's potentially a very lucrative ploy - "We quoted $100,000 for unlimited use of all our software for all their people," Van Den Hoogen explained. And, again, the whole Orion approach is almost Microsoft-like in its thinking: a tightly integrated software stack with the Sun ONE app server as its centerpiece.

Throw in Sun's own Solaris OS, along with the 100-odd Orion components that Van Den Hoogen says will become available over time, and what you have is a sense of why McNealy says that Sun's software strategy is in safe hands, even if the Project Rave that James Gosling demoed at JavaOne in June isn't yet ready to ship.

It was at JavaOne that Jonathan Schwartz offered simplicity in terms of Sun's upcoming new license management for enterprise users, and tomorrow's event in the Moscone Center is certain to be the scene of further confirmations that the rollout of that policy in in full swing.

For Java developers who can't be there in person, there's a chance to be there virtually instead. "NetworkComputing 03-Q3" is Sun's Web event mirroring some of the early action.

JDJ will bring you a blow by blow account from the heart of the conference, from tomorrow. Stay tuned!

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JDJ News Desk monitors the world of Java to present IT professionals with updates on technology advances, business trends, new products and standards in the Java and i-technology space.

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