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Second that on McNealy's report card

In response to the Sept. 12, 2003, Perspectives column by Charles Cooper, "A gentleman's C for Scott McNealy":

I read your article on Scott McNealy, and 100 percent agree. Microsoft, driven by Bill Gates--and to a lesser extent, Steve Ballmer--has always had three attributes going that most everyone underestimates:

• A clear vision of what they think is possible beyond the features for which customers are immediately asking.

• Tenacity in pursuing that vision, even when mistakes occur or things don't work out as planned. While the old joke about not buying a Microsoft product until version 3 may hold some truth, the fact is that, unlike many other companies, Microsoft continues to plug away until they get it right. Admittedly, they have a cash cow in their OS business like no other competitor. But still, the culture pervades.

• The smarts to recognize that they do not have a monopoly on good ideas and the paranoia to always fear that someone will come up with something they haven't thought of. They have made an art of co-opting competitors' good ideas that they thought might steal their business.

Sun Microsystems' problem (and Hewlett-Packard is even worse) is that they fundamentally are a hardware company that doesn't entirely believe that software really drives hardware sales. Compared to HP, Sun at least creates and drives its own software. However, they only present the hardware dogma. The infrastructure world has been driven by religious wars for years, and Sun hasn't presented itself well from a visionary or dogmatic perspective on that field. IBM had the smarts to recognize that Linux could enable them to have a product around which they could proselytize and that OS/2 and AIX had failed to gain sufficient traction for that purpose. Sun's rallying cry is just "don't buy Microsoft." That's insufficient to drive people to Sun in a world where hardware is becoming increasingly commoditized.

Bill Gates' great skill is the ability to adapt his vision to changing times and clearly articulate this vision to his troops and the rest of the world. Scott McNealy and Carly Fiorina could learn a lot from him on how to be a visionary leader.

Neal Goldman
Cambridge, Mass.