McNealy pushes thinner computing

Microsoft-bashing and future-gazing topped Scott McNealy’s agenda during his recent visit to Toronto.

The Sun Microsystems chairman, CEO and co-founder appeared at a recent Canadian Club speaker series luncheon to promote the company’s new desktop suite StarOffice, and its new thin client appliance, Sun Ray. StarOffice, a free, open-source, platform-independent office suite, has a similar look and feel to Microsoft Office, “like going from a Ford to a Chevy,” he said, and Microsoft files can be imported and exported. There have been about 40,000 worldwide downloads of the software per day since it was introduced last month, McNealy said.

“That’s like 10 or 12 million dollars of opportunity cost to Microsoft. Why do we do it? Because we can. There’s no reason not to – they’re just electrons, a renewable resource. Even though it is 60 per cent of Microsoft’s profit,” he added, “that’s not why we do it. Am I looking sincere?”

At 65MB, StarOffice is also much smaller than Microsoft’s 400MB Windows 98, which McNealy repeatedly referred to as a “giant hairball.” Sun’s thin appliance, the Sun Ray, is unlike PCs and Window-based terminals in that it runs no application or system code and therefore requires no configuration or desktop management, McNealy said. Previous network computing devices offered by Sun were not very successful because they lacked an office application, he explained, but this gap will now be filled by StarOffice.

The appliances access information stored at a service provider’s server at a remote location. Users can access their personal information from any Sun Ray appliance by using SMART card technology, McNealy explained.

Users are moving away from PCs and more towards appliances to access the Internet, he said. “Every device with a digital heartbeat will be a source to access the Internet. I look at an automobile as nothing more than a Java browser with tires.”

Computing environments have changed a lot in a relatively short time, he pointed out. “Think back five years ago when you spent 100 per cent of your time in Windows. Now think about how much more time you spend in the browser (environment), and less and less in Windows,” he said.

“So just do it – just say ‘no’ to Windows,” McNealy implored the laughing audience.

McNealy also told numerous unflattering jokes about his competitors such as “the top 10 ways you know your pacemaker is running Windows – your heart works, but you can’t get that loving feeling anymore” and “Sun is the dot in dot com, Compaq and SGI are the slashes and Microsoft is the colon.”

On a more serious note, however, McNealy warned attendees that this country is lagging in its e-commerce potential, and said that more Canadian investment should be put into this area. “You all in this room are hopelessly behind. You cannot imagine how this stuff is racing along.”

Last quarter, in Silicon Valley alone, there was nearly US$3 billion invested in venture capital in new Internet startups, McNealy said.

“It’s not even an issue of, ‘Is this the way to go, is this what is going to happen.’ If you can fog a mirror, you can get venture money (there).”