Scott says...


Jai Singh Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Jai Singh is the founding editor and editor in chief of CNET News.com.
Jai Singh
12 min read
CNET News.com Newsmakers
October 10, 1996, Scott McNealy
Scott says...
By Margie Wylie and Jai Singh
Staff Writers, CNET NEWS.COM

Scott McNealy is not a subtle man. The athletic six-foot-something CEO of Sun Microsystems believes in working hard, playing hard, and never pulling a punch.

If you want to understand McNealy, look at the company he's nourished for 13 years. In its early days, the atmosphere at Sun was more like a hyperactive fraternity house than a business. The April Fool's jokes are legendary. One year a Volkswagen Bug was taken apart and reassembled piece by piece in an executive's office. Another year, a Ferrari mysteriously appeared in the duck pond. Today, with over 16,000 employees, the nearly $6 billion company appears a little more staid, but employees at all levels can be heard quoting the jeans-and-T-shirt CEO in the halls of Sun. "Scott says...," the sentence invariably begins.

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In the war of words between network computer and personal computer proponents, one might expect McNealy to line up with the PC crowd. After all, Sun's cash cow is a line of desktop computers that are faster, more powerful, and have more features than the average PC. No way. McNealy thinks that Java, a programming language that can run on any kind of computer, will make network computers the wave of the future for both workplaces and individuals. "Maybe this will look like one of the biggest, silliest boondoggles, but Sun is betting all the marbles on network computing," McNealy says.

Sun is one of the companies that, like Oracle, will sell NCs later this year. However, McNealy insists that NCs are only the start. Like Xerox PARC's Mark Weiser, McNealy believes we'll be living in a connected world where set-top boxes, navigational devices, and even phones will work in ways similar to NCs. That means all these devices will need powerful central computers to connect to, something Sun also just happens to sell, McNealy grins.

NEWS.COM caught up with McNealy in his company's Mountain View offices, where he talked about the uselessness of the modern PC, the future prospects of the NC, the part Java will play in transforming communications, and a unique proposition for fighting teenage drug use.

NEWS.COM: Now you can get a decent PC for under $1,000. In the corporate world, why would the NC appeal since the price point of the PC is coming down?
McNealy: What is the total cost of ownership of the PC?

Of course it has service and support...
And software, and upgrades, and security issues, and user administration issues, there's a whole suite of issues around which the least of your worries is the up-front cost of the PC. I think we're trying to solve a different suite of problems.

You can still have your personal desktop. You just don't store files or applications locally. We run that environment here today at Sun: I don't store any files locally on my computer and I store no applications. It's wonderful! I wouldn't know how to back up a file; I wouldn't know how to load a software application. I don't even know how to load a CD into a computer. You know what? I don't need to. I have access to 350 applications on my desktop a mouse click away is all it is.

NEXT: Why PCs are time wasters

Scott McNealy

Age: 42

Progeny: Maverick

Obsessions: Hockey, golf

Zingers: CaptiveX, the great unwashed Internet, that hair ball Microsoft Office

Philosophy: Eat lunch or be lunch.

CNET News.com Newsmakers
October 10, 1996, Scott McNealy
Why PCs are time wasters

Your message, that NCs and Java can replace PCs, is being accepted by corporations?
I think it depends on how much of an issue the CEO and CIO make of the current environment. The biggest issue around the current environment is security. I call Windows the petri dish of choice on the Internet. It's the opportunity to download a virus from anywhere and infect corporate information.

Secondly, What good is a firewall if you give everybody a floppy or CD-ROM drive? That's the ability to inject a virus into your corporate network and invade all of your corporate data. It's just absolutely the wrong thing to do, yet the user wants it. Why? Because they want to load Willy Nelson in there, or they want to load their own little dilly-bobbies from home, or they want to see what happens when they bring in something from the great unwashed Internet.

Thirdly, why would you want to have your desktop user, your mere mortals, messing around with a 32-bit minicomputer-class computing environment? It makes no sense at all.

And, why would you want [to run] an environment that reboots at least once a day? You've got 20,000 employees in your company and they're all rebooting once a day! That's an incredible waste of time.

I absolutely don't trust every employee to back up their data every day that they're storing on their local disk. Why do they need a local disk? I think corporations are going to stand back and say, "When I give you a telephone, I don't also give you a switch and then ask you to program your personal switch, load software, back up, and configure your local switch." If we gave you each your own switch, you'd never make a phone call. It's a wonder that MIS departments can keep data tone up at all when they're giving everybody their own, if you will, switch.

Some people stuff money in their mattress. They don't believe in banks. I believe in data banks as well as I believe in financial institutions. So I put my money in a bank and I put my data on a corporate server. It's safer there. Nobody pours a drink on them, nobody kicks the power cord out, somebody is always backing the stuff up. It's a much better environment.

So from the hardware perspective we're not going back to the old days, but what about from a centralized management perspective?
If you've got a real job to do, you shouldn't want to be messing around with a computer. I find it just patently absurd that you have 4,000 features on your word processor! I need backspace, delete, cut, paste, and print. Any more features on your word processor and you're screwing around, not getting your job done.

See the nice thing about the Java model is you don't have to download this big huge hair ball called Office. You can download the pieces you need. Yeah, I would hate to be trying to download Office. You'd have to go back and shower and shave again while it's still coming down.

We're looking at a very, very different model. The telephone is the model: It's reliable. When you pick up the phone and you don't have dial tone by the time it gets to your ear, you're angry. Think about when you boot your PC. If it actually boots, you're thrilled! It's like "I'm going to have a good day. My PC came up!" That's the difference between dial tone and data tone. What we're trying to do with the NC is get people to the point where by the time they turn on their NC and their Java client, by the time they turn that screen on, their browser are ready, and they can click, download, and run applications.

NEXT: The Starbucks of computing

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CNET News.com Newsmakers
October 10, 1996, Scott McNealy
The Starbucks of computing

Let's say corporations don't need PCs. What about the rest of us?
This whole concept of thinking that we've got to give everybody a minicomputer-class operating system, file system, disk farm, backup, and storage and software distribution mechanism all on their lap is wrong. It wasn't wrong historically because we had no way to do it any better and the network wasn't mature enough to be able to take advantage of it. Plus, you were always disconnected from the network. I'm never disconnected now. With [wireless satellite] phones I'm never disconnected from the network. There's no reason to be.

Here's the perfect Java machine [holding up wireless phone]: I've got a network port, I've got a speaker, a microphone, a display, a keyboard, a power supply, and a microprocessor, and a million lines of code. It's a perfect Java machine. You know, Scott said something really stupid, so I'm going to download my little stock applet and I'm going to type in "S-E-L-L-S-U-N 2000 shares. Send." Took care of that. That will teach Scott not to say something really stupid! I've just sold 2000 of his shares.

You know, Larry Ellison keeps picking a fight with a $500 fantasy computer. I don't know what that is. I don't care. Every Nintendo game ought to have the Java Virtual Machine in it; every Sega game ought to have the Java Virtual Machine in it because they're all going to be hooked to the network. Every set-top box, every TV, every kiosk ought to have the Java Virtual Machine in it.

How has Java impacted Sun's business? Has it moved you to markets you'd never been in before?
There's no question that doors are opening that weren't opening before. We're now on the short list.

Besides the licensing fee, is there a money making model for Java?
Java chips, the Java Virtual Machine, HotJava browser, the JavaOS, Java class extensions, the WorkShop for Java development environment, Java clients, servers that serve up Java, development workstations for Java, Java training programs and books, Java consulting. You name it.

Looking out 12 months, how do you see the marketplace playing out with Microsoft using ActiveX technologies and developers having to decide on Java or ActiveX?
I don't pretend to be a soothsayer or whatever. The real opportunity here with Java is you can develop your application using Java and run it on Windows and run it on Apple and run it on OS/2 and run it on Unix and run it on MVS and run it on Novell and run it on all the NCs and run it on the Nortel screen-based phone and run it on consumer electronics equipment and run it on kiosks and run it in any environment that has a microprocessor and a network port. You're not going to see NT running on your cell phone; you're not going to see NT run on a kiosk. You'd need a system administrator there to make sure nobody used it or for fear that it would go down.

So I think the opportunity with Java versus "CaptiveX," as everybody calls it, is either you want to be captive to the Microsoft arena or you want to have something that runs on everything.

NEXT: Cooperation and competition

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CNET News.com Newsmakers
October 10, 1996, Scott McNealy
Cooperation and competition

In 1994, you wrote a Wall Street Journal piece excoriating Microsoft for monopolizing the personal computer operating system. With Bill Gates plans to integrate the entire Internet experience into the Windows interface and with his media holdings, do you fear that Gates has the same intentions for the Internet?
I don't think I called them a monopoly. [Bill Gates] doesn't really share his strategic vision [with me].

Aren't you Java partners?
We're Java partners. Yeah, he's OEMing software and he sends us checks and hopefully they don't bounce. But he doesn't really share his particular strategies with us, so you'll have to go see him to go figure all that out. We're making a big bet on the Net. The good news about our strategy is you can't download a Sparc station or an Enterprise server for free out over the Internet; you can't download a professional services person for free out over the Internet.

The good news about our strategy is it features the fact that a desktop operating system is a negative value-add. For most mere mortals, for all but 5 percent of the world (which is the workstation marketplace) the desktop operating system is a negative, it's a ball and chain around productivity. I call it a personal activity generator, not a personal productivity tool. I call Office the ultimate personal activity generator. It couldn't be named more inaccurately than a "personal productivity tool suite." It just couldn't be more misrepresentative of what it does to white-collar productivity.

Haven't you seen somebody yell "it printed!" And you go look and they've got some document that's right-hand justified, spell-checked, 14-font, 13-color with 18 pieces of clipart. And it was fun! It has absolutely nothing to do with productivity, shareholder value, or making the customer happy: it was fun! It's the CEO-approved Nintendo game for most employees.

Are you surprised at how quickly Microsoft became a major force in the Internet space?
I'm not sure they are. Sun is in the Internet-intranet space. We always have been and we continue to be. And we had a record quarter last quarter. We had a 35 percent growth in bookings last quarter. We couldn't get enough sheet metal to ship the product out the door. So are they a force? I guess. I mean they certainly buy a lot of advertising and they even had to go get their own network to promote their story, I guess. I don't know.

But actually the reason I asked is because I was talking to Barksdale yesterday and he said, "Well in time it's possible that we would be sharing 50-50 of the market share on the browser front." Do you feel Java is way ahead of the game right now?
Well see when I think about Internets and intranets, the least important piece of technology on this whole thing is the browser. What matters is the network, network management, service and support, your suite of servers, your desktop, your applications environment. All of that can be done without a browser. Now with all of the HTML Mosaic capabilities being built into the core-operating environment, with Java being embedded into the core-operating environment, a browser is not necessary.

So the browser is not the defining feature. It's kind of like saying the steering wheel is the defining feature of an automobile. It's the thing you touch, but eventually the browser is about as important as the steering wheel: You've got to have it, but you're not going out to buy a steering wheel without a car.

Netscape and you have been partners. Netscape has plans to go out to the non-PC market. Will that impact your relationship?
We cooperate and compete with just about every major partner out there. We cooperate and compete with Microsoft, we cooperate and compete with IBM, we cooperate and compete with HP. We do that with every vendor out there and we'll continue to go do that with everyone. The industry is just getting too small and too big at the same time. [There are] too few competitors and too big an opportunity to not collaborate.

NEXT: One lucky Sun of a gun

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CNET News.com Newsmakers
October 10, 1996, Scott McNealy
One lucky Sun of a gun

What do you check out when you get onto the Web? Do you surf?
I [get on the Web] when somebody sends me an email to check this out or I publish my proposal here or something like that. But I don't surf randomly and I don't go out looking for a good time and I'm not into chat rooms, etc. We have an intranet and probably do more surfing internally on our intranet. I don't surf. Surfing is not a concept I'm familiar with. Getting information is one I'm quite comfortable with doing.

What sort of a computer do you see your son using?
Well Maverick uses a Fisher-Price post that has different colored rings. He stacks it up like that, and then throws it all over the place, and then he drools, but he's only 9 months old, so I'm cutting him a little slack. I haven't asked him to try and debug [Microsoft Windows] NT yet.

When gets three or four years old would you buy him a PC or would you buy him an NC?

We'll see how far this model has matured. I suppose at home you probably want to give him NT to give him the biggest challenge. I've always argued the best way to keep your teenager off drugs is buy him a Pentium Pro, give him NT and Microsoft Office and a printer, and tell him you get $500 if you can print something out of PowerPoint on that printer. That will take him six months of drug-free activity. I think that's probably the best thing you could possibly do for your teenager.

You've often portrayed yourself as a lucky guy who was in the right place at the right time. "It's a very hard thing to have people think you're so important..." you've said. What's hardest for you?
I just want to get the straight scoop from people. I want to know when my fly is down. That's the big issue and I think people get intimidated or are in awe or whatever. I think that has a little bit to do with why we don't have a dress code. I don't want trappings of walnut, and fancy furniture, and big offices, special parking spots and limos, and different travel policies for the executives because I want a free, open, honest, frank, and nonintimidating forum of exchange here. The thing that scares me to death is that people are afraid to tell me what they really think. That doesn't mean that I'm going to go with what they think, but I want to hear it. Let me have it. I've never fired anybody for sharing an idea with me.

Is there a McNealy's law?
Yeah, that's "eat lunch or be lunch." Or if you're in academia, "do lunch, or be lunch."