McNealy: Stockpile computers for Y2K

Asia is "disastrously behind" in dealing with year 2000 computer issues, so it's possible that the region's vendors will not be able to provide an adequate supply of components, leading Scott McNealy (the chairman of Sun Microsystems) to make a suggestion that he confessed is self serving.

"My recommendation is to buy lots of computers in the second half of this year," McNealy said during a press conference today at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

While governments and others versed in the potential problems caused by the year 2000 computer glitch have said that people ought to have cash reserves on hand and stockpile food, water and other necessities, McNealy said, "given what we know about Asia, it might not be a bad idea to stockpile computers."

Most older software was written with a two-digit date field expected to read the "00" in 2000 as "1900" and therefore fail to make correct calculations. A wide range of predictions has been made regarding what will happen as a consequence, but McNealy said that anyone who wants to avoid problems obtaining components might want to consider having extra computers around just in case.

McNealy was hard-pressed to say why Asia has fallen so far behind. Perhaps the timing of the economic crisis there is a factor. But it's also possible that there are geographic and cultural issues. For instance, updated software generally is released later in Asia than in other regions, he said, urging the media to sound the alarm now because it's not yet too late for a turnaround in dealing with year 2000.

Besides year 2000, McNealy answered questions related to privacy concerns and antitrust law and the government's ongoing case against Sun rival Microsoft.

McNealy hasn't publicly said what he believes the remedies ought to be to stop Microsoft from allegedly anticompetitive behavior, but did offer his views at the press conference regarding breaking the software giant into pieces, much the way telecommunications monolith AT&T was broken up.

"It's like one of those horror movies where you break the monster in half and now you have two monsters," McNealy said of the spectre of a divided Microsoft.

Such a remedy would make it even more difficult for companies to compete with Microsoft, he said, referring to the possible breakup of the business as the creation of "three baby Bills" -- a reference to the telecommunications breakup that led to the so-called "baby Bell" telcos and to Microsoft chief Bill Gates, who also is speaking at the World Economic Forum, which runs through tomorrow.

Breaking up Microsoft would only serve to reward the company's shareholders for the misbehaviour of the firm, McNealy said.

It doesn't take a degree in economics to realise that Microsoft competes unfairly, he said, asking rhetorically, "what about free (software) is not predatory pricing?"

McNealy was equally animated on the subject of how to protect privacy and private information provided online. There must be consequences when privacy is violated, although "the invisible hand of the market" tends to take care of companies that don't honor the privacy of customers, who spread the word about their experiences, leading others to stop doing business with the offenders.

Attaching serial numbers to online transactions isn't necessarily a bad idea, McNealy said, so long as only law enforcement agencies track the numeric codes. He compared such use to serial numbers on vehicles.

"It's nice to have audit trails as long as audit trails are not used for perverse purposes," he said.

People have little privacy to begin with in this era, McNealy said.

"Somebody has your medical records. Somebody has your money (in a bank). You hand over credit card numbers to an absolute stranger in a restaurant,'' he said. "The level of privacy you have today is very low."

Sun: http://www.sun.com.au.

Information on the World Economic Forum can be found at http://live99.weform.org/.

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