Sun president: PCs are so yesterday

Sun's president argues that what's become important are Web services and the cell phones most will use to access them.

SAN JOSE, Calif.--Increasingly, the personal computer is a relic.

So asserted Jonathan Schwartz, president of server and software maker Sun Microsystems. Instead, what has become important are Web services on the Internet and the mobile phones most will use to access them, he argued at a Friday speech here at a meeting of the American India Foundation.

"The majority of the applications that will drive the next wave of innovation will be services, not applications that run on the desktop. The real innovation is occurring in the network and the network services," Schwartz said.

Sun, which sells the back-end infrastructure that powers such services, has promulgated variations of this message for years. But there's evidence the idea has some merit.

Schwartz points to the increasing wealth and power of companies, like eBay, Google, Yahoo and Amazon.com, that profit from free services available over the network. Among his audience, many more people said they'd rather have access to Internet services than their desktop computing applications. And Microsoft--the company with the biggest financial stake in the PC software business--has struggled to cope with the arrival of Web services.

The threat to PCs is twofold. Not only are services moving to the network, Schwartz said, but PCs won't be the way people use those services--particularly in poorer areas of the world that have risen higher up Sun's corporate priority list. Instead, that access will come through mobile phones.

"The majority of the world will first experience the Internet through their handset," Schwartz said.

When it comes to aiding developing regions' digital development, "Our collective generation believes the desktop PC is the most important thing to give to people. I don't buy that. The most important thing to give is access to the Internet."

Since Schwartz became Sun's president last year, the company has touted a campaign to bridge the digital divide, for example by promoting freely available open-source software such as OpenOffice.org. Schwartz doesn't pretend his company's motives are altruistic, though.

"Clearly it's in my company's best interest to have 50 million people in sub-Saharan Africa join the network," Schwartz said.

But he does argue that there's more to be gained from pervasive network access than just a restoration of Sun's financial health and improvement to its stagnant stock price. The network also helps bring value to society, he said.

"The Internet has clearly become, as electricity and railroads did before it, a social utility," Schwartz said.

One case in point was visible with the online classified ad site Craigslist during the effort to cope with the Katrina hurricane that devastated states on the Gulf Coast. And he expects more with the approach of the next storm, Rita.

"The Internet--and one organization in particular called Craigslist--played an absolutely central role to recovery efforts," Schwartz said. "While the Federal Emergency Management Agency was stumbling and trying to figure out how to present its information, Craigslist was providing a connection vehicle for people who wanted to find their friends, their family members, their pets."

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