Sun CEO: Force Microsoft to play ball

The only way Microsoft will open up its control of how to talk to the Windows operating system is if the government forces the company to do so, says Sun's Scott McNealy.

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Stephen Shankland
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SAN FRANCISCO--The only way Microsoft will loosen control of the Windows operating system is if the government forces the company to do so, said Sun Microsystems chief executive Scott McNealy in a speech here.

Addressing the JavaOne conference, McNealy said the best remedy against Microsoft is to force the company to open up its application programming interfaces. Such a move would let many other companies use their technology with Windows more easily, without permission from Microsoft.

Application Program Interfaces (APIs) determine standard ways that software "talks" to Windows. And by controlling the APIs, Microsoft can control what Windows can do.

While Microsoft does publish certain parts of its Windows APIs, McNealy, along with Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison, have in the past complained that Microsoft does not publish key portions of Windows NT--the operating system for businesses--such as the storage subsystem.

McNealy recalled the antitrust case against IBM, in which Big Blue was forced to open up parts of its software to competitors. "Other people could compete and get access to IBM's contained files and application environments," he said during the question-and-answer period after his speech. "It's quite easy to enforce a remedy that gave consumers a lot of choice."

McNealy's words are ironic in light of several companies' criticism that Sun is heavy-handed in its control of the Java language by having the final say on Java APIs.

Sun, he said, opens up the development process to its Java licensees. "We have such an open Java Community Process for new API's. There's no secret surprises. No one has ever come to you and said, 'Sun really surprised me with an API. We didn't know they were doing that,'" he said. "Microsoft can crash any third-party environment. It can grow like 'the Blob' with upgrades that send competitors into a tailspin."

He said that another remedy that should emerge from the antitrust trial is to force Microsoft to give profits back as dividends to investors and have them perform their own research and development.

Microsoft's business strategy has been to acquire technology from other companies. "They bought DOS, SQL Server from Sybase, Explorer from Spyglass. With NT they had to do a little deal with DEC. They borrowed or swiped technology."

And in the process, they have killed off their competitors, he said. "It's anti-competitive behavior," McNealy said.

McNealy also praised Linux, the upstart Unix-like operating system that can be downloaded for free. The only computer systems that are gaining in the market are Sun's Solaris on its Sparc chips, Windows on Intel chips, and Linux, he said.

"Every other architecture is basically gaining speed and losing altitude," McNealy said.

McNealy said Sun's chief technology officer Greg Papadapolous recently installed Linux on his laptop over a weekend, complete with a Web browser, user interface, and suite of office applications. "All of a sudden there is a better environment than Microsoft," and it's free, McNealy said.

"It's smaller, faster, has fewer bugs, and more people working on it than the entire state of Washington," he said. "Why spend money on Windows and Office?"

McNealy also tried to bring his CEO view of the world to the developers at the conference, describing how he sees the computer industry and the place of companies such as Sun, Microsoft, IBM, Dell, and Compaq.

McNealy said IBM made a grave mistake by letting Microsoft into its business. Signing onto the Windows and Intel plan drove IBM out of its area of expertise, building computers, and into an area where it was exposed to a different set of competitors. Only now is IBM beginning to recover under chief executive Lou Gerstner, who has taken the company in the direction of selling services instead of selling computers, he said.

McNealy said Microsoft's licensing of Java was a similar case of letting the enemy in the back door. As a result, Microsoft is scrambling to find a new business, Internet services, and content. McNealy pointed to examples of Microsoft's activity in Web sites for automobiles and travel, HotMail, WebTV, and its deals with cable companies.