February 26, 1996
John M. Dodge
Out stumping the so-called "Java Appliance, " Sun Microsystems Inc. Chairman, President, and CEO Scott McNealy is an indefatigable pitchman and comedian on stage. Last week, McNealy demonstrated a dictionary-size Internet computer at the UniForum trade show in San Francisco. PC Week Senior Executive Editor of News John Dodge caught up with McNealy for an interview after his entertaining and pointed pitch.
PC Week: What was the Java Appliance doing in the demo?
McNealy: It was running the HotJava browser, multitasking Java applets and running as a Java virtual machine. I had never seen it before. It's not a product. It's a concept. It's hugely new.
[This witness saw great graphics and one Java applet running--a personified icon doing somersaults.]
PC Week: What's a Java virtual machine?
McNealy: It's putting in code that fools the client into thinking there is an OS there. It's very portable. We call it Java on bare metal.
PC Week: What operating system was it running?
McNealy: I don't know. [The OS] has just enough microcode [to run]--less than 500K bytes. It's truly a thin client.
PC Week: What's the advantage of the Java Appliance?
McNealy: Well, it will cost less than a PC. But it's really zero cost for user administration. It's like the phone. Do I put a switch on your desktop with the phone? No. The switching is done at a server somewhere.
PC Week: Can you give an update on JavaSoft, the unit set up in December to ramrod Java products? What's its role?
McNealy: It will make lots of money. They will sell class libraries, browsers, Internet servers, consulting, WorkShop for Java (Sun's set of development tools), and other things. The other Sun units are doing so many Java projects, it recently took a half day just to list them. They give them to JavaSoft to sell.
PC Week: Who does JavaSoft report to?
PC Week: What was the impact of the departures of three key Java developers?
McNealy: We have 15,000 employees. They did not leave. A company does not want 50 percent turnover, but it does not want zero turnover, either. And some of them come back.
PC Week: How will Sun and Netscape Communications Corp. co-manage Java? Who controls the language?
McNealy: There will be no next version. You can't change a language. You can't change English. You don't make money on it. We will build products in the Java language that will make money, like class libraries.
PC Week: How much are you motivated by bringing down Microsoft Corp.?
McNealy: My motivation is to make money for the shareholders. Anyone who reads that I want to kick anyone's butt [should not believe it]. I am a capitalist. It's have lunch or be lunch. Planned economies [such as Microsoft Windows] don't work.
PC Week: How much longer do you want to run a big company like Sun?
McNealy: As long as the board will have me. What else would I do? What else am I good at? Lee Trevino is one of my heroes. I remember him yakking up a storm with secretaries and janitors early one morning before a skins match. He was telling them about his new golf swing. He just could not wait for the sun to come up. He has incredible passion for what he does.
PC Week: So you'd do it again?
McNealy: I could not re-create Sun again. Bill Gates could not re-create Microsoft. The only people who have done it twice are Jim Clark, with Silicon Graphics Inc. and maybe Netscape, and Steve Jobs, with Apple Computer Inc. and Pixar Inc.
PC Week: Did you recently put an offer on the table to buy Apple?
McNealy: We don't comment on that. We have talked to Apple for the last eight or nine years.
PC Week: Would Apple have been a good fit?
McNealy: I can't speculate. I won't speculate. We do resell the Apple development environment.
PC Week: What is your merger-and-acquisition strategy?
McNealy: It's opportunistic. We're not complacent, but we do feel pretty comfortable. We have the key technologies like engine, drive train, and interior technologies. We OEM the radios and the tires.
[As son of a former vice chairman of American Motors Corp., McNealy can't resist car metaphors.]
PC Week: How will Solaris match up with the work on the next-generation Unix that Hewlett-Packard Co. and The Santa Cruz Operation are doing?
McNealy: Solaris is the volume leader. Whatever they do had better comply with what we do or they have a problem. Some twosome doing what they do must be embarrassing for them.
PC Week: What would HP say to that?
McNealy: I don't work there. Ask Lew [Platt, HP chairman].
PC Week: What is Sun's biggest weakness?
McNealy: Leadership at the top [laughing].
PC Week: Really, now.
McNealy: The hardest thing is to get the industry to understand we do not want one answer. We want choice. And we will have choice.
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