Interview with Bill Joy
“With open source, you’re reduced to labour as the only means of advancement, because you can only make money on support, which is a labour-intensive business.” – Joy
Bill Joy is 44. So far, he has been the primary force behind BSD Unix, co-founded Sun Microsystems, designed the Sparc microprocessor architecture, created Sun’s Network File System and driven the development of Java.
Now, Sun Microsystems’ chief scientist is working on Jini, a new architecture that promises to dynamically connect and configure devices across a network. Sun plans to Jini-enable a wide range of devices, but Joy points to cellular handsets as the biggest beneficiary of the Jini pay-out.
ComputerWorld Canada editor Peter Wolchak spoke with Joy at the CIPS-sponsored Informatics 1999 conference in Edmonton.
CWC: What’s the time frame for the appearance of Jini-enabled devices?
JOY: We [just had] the second meeting for those doing Jini development; last year we had about 30 people attending, and this year we had 200 sign-up before it sold out. We hope to show devices people are building with Jini at the consumer electronics show in January in Las Vegas.
There are two communities of interest. One is people using it for commercial products, as a dynamic way to configure servers and services for more reliability, and then there are people using it for ubiquitous computing, which is the idea that everything that has electricity will eventually have both software and networking.
CWC: What will be the first Jini success story?
JOY: The first killer will be handsets – we’ve been working with Dokomo in Japan to put Java into their phones. The idea is you don’t want phones to be fixed-function – you want to download applications into the phone. Motorola is working on phones with AOL Instant Messaging and some ability to program extended Java. Nokia is working on similar things.
We believe that the wonderful thing about using handsets is – with a portal, like StarPortal – I can use my handset to access corporate information that is device-specific to that device. For example, if I suddenly decide to delete a slide used for my presentation, there’s no reason I couldn’t download the outline of my presentation, scroll down and hit a Delete key, and then send it back. I would only be looking at it from a high-level outline form, but when I walk up to the podium the change has been made.
These phones are persistently connected, they have expensive batteries and nice displays and they’re with you all the time, so they are the starting point for who you are and where you are.
CWC: So the handset becomes the authentication intermediary?
JOY: Yes. You can walk up to a keyboard and display (station) and your personal contact, your token, will be the handset. It will be like a smart card with a big battery.
It’s impersonal computing. The truth is you don’t want to configure each device (you use), because the time you spend configuring or personalizing a device is all lost each time it crashes or you go to another device. So the notion of putting services (such as identity) on the ‘net and depersonalizing devices – except the identity token – is powerful.
CWC: If Jini is successful, what changes will that incur for IT and networking personnel?
JOY: There’s a huge problem with managing the proliferation of personal devices, in the same way that corporate IT had a problem with managing the proliferation of PCs. Our primary focus is to create technologies which will allow information to be more centrally managed; individual devices are just access points to a network that delivers services. That will help enormously, because security and authentication are largely solved.
CWC: Sun has been criticized by some over its community source licence for Solaris. That’s especially interesting considering you were primarily responsible for BSD Unix. What is your take on the open source movement and the criticism of Sun?
JOY: I was the person who made BSD open source. My view at the time – 20 years ago – was that software done at a university was the result of your research, and at a university you publish.
The free software foundation came from Richard Stahlman, for whom property was theft. No one should own software. We have that in our society now – certain things, like national parks, are held in common. But the notion that no one can own software is a radical proposition.
My view is that the people who create value ought to be encouraged by the possibility of reward. If they decide to give it away I have no objection to that, but to say everyone has to give their stuff away isn’t going to work.
So my view is that people who do work ought to be rewarded, but we have to share our work in a format that other people can build on. Our community-source (approach) tries to bridge the proprietary world – such as Microsoft’s, in which no one can build on their work because it is kept secret – and the open-source world where you have almost no ability to profit.
With open source, you’re reduced to labour as the only means of advancement, because you can only make money on support, which is a labour-intensive business. What has inspired all the creative activity in Silicon Valley is the fact you can have a great idea and get paid for that great idea. You don’t have to work it out at minimum wage
CWC: How will that approach be played out in terms of Sun software?
JOY: We’re going to try to get all of our intellectual property out there in a form that people can build on – in source-code form – but if you’re going to reuse it commercially we’re going to ask you to pay a royalty. And we’re going to insist on controlling brands in some cases, because brands have value to customers. We want Java and Jini to mean something.
CWC: Sun is often quite vocal in its opinion of Microsoft. Does your company realistically envision a non-Microsoft world?
JOY: I think the core focus for CIOs is services on the Web, and it’s not hard to imagine doing that with open, multi-vendor standards. For example, you can use DNA 2000 or whatever they’re calling it, or you can use Enterprise Java Beans. Every vendor except Microsoft supports Java2 Enterprise Edition and EJB and Microsoft supports the other, so you have a clear choice. It’s also quite clear that EJB is better.
You can take the Microsoft choice and there’s not much confusion because you sign up for all their stuff, but if you take the EJB solution you have to deal with choice, because there’s a marketplace of competitors out there, and that’s a healthy marketplace.
Customers don’t have a lot of choice on the desktop either if they’re wedded to Microsoft Office. Sun’s StarOffice now gives people an alternative. Microsoft can set almost whatever price they choose for Office, and the amount of money people are paying for the monopoly rent on Office is very, very high, and that provides us with an opportunity to provide an alternative.
CWC: What’s your personal opinion of Microsoft?
JOY: When you have that much money you almost don’t have to make choices. There are very few limits on your behaviour, and there are a number of things they’ve done that a prudent person wouldn’t do, simply because it would be embarrassing if it was found out, even if it wasn’t illegal.
My personal standard is if something appears improper it is improper. We make an effort to avoid any appearance of impropriety, and the frustrating thing about Microsoft is they make no effort to avoid the appearance of impropriety. That is an extremely bad role model, if people are looking up to Gates and Ballmer as people they want to be like.
I think the deposition Gates gave is (tantamount to) contempt of court, and to pretend that level of memory loss – well, I can’t imagine he doesn’t remember those things. It doesn’t pass the laugh test.