Sun's McNealy asks coders to change the world

Sun Microsystems Chairman Scott McNealy, who had been the company's CEO for 22 years until last month, issued a call to developers Friday to make a difference in bridging the worldwide digital divide.

During a morning keynote presentation and a subsequent press conference, McNealy was upbeat about his new responsibilities and expressed relief about stepping down as CEO. He turned over the reigns to Jonathan Schwartz, who had been Sun's COO. Rumors had floated in recent weeks that McNealy would step aside in response to gripes about the company's poor financial performance of late.

"I'm thrilled not to have to be CEO anymore," he said. "That was a temporary thing that I took on about 22 years ago."

Although he injected a lot of humor into his presentation, including reading a "top 10" list of reasons why he was glad to exit the job, McNealy's talk had a serious side as well.

Three out of four persons in the world are not on the Internet, he said. "It's an enormous tragedy. It's also a huge economic opportunity," McNealy said. The industry must eliminate this divide through development of Java-enabled technologies, he said.

To this end, developers may need to work a little later in the night "because you're kind of cursed with the opportunity" to change the world, said McNealy.

"We're going to solve [this divide] through Web services, through thin clients, through network computing, and we're going to do that without torching the planet," McNealy said.

McNealy stressed the critical mass of Java, which he said adds 3 million users a week.

"Java has become a top technology brand, with basically among IT folks 100 percent brand recognition," McNealy said.

He endorsed plans to offer Java via open source. This would enable sharing of the technology, which would lower the barrier to entry and exit and leverage the contributions of the community at-large.

Asked about how Sun will solve issues of maintaining platform compatibility under an open source format, McNealy responded, "You'll have to go check with Jonathan on that."

Commenting on his successor, McNealy described Schwartz as the perfect candidate to take Sun to the next level. But McNealy remains committed to the company, taking on tasks such as working with the federal government as chairman of the Sun Federal division, meeting with large Sun customers such as AT&T, and overseeing partnerships in Japan.

"I don't think there's anything else I'd rather be doing than making Sun successful," he said.

McNealy, though, also offered commentary of the lighthearted variety, which has been a trademark of his presentations over many years. "I actually found advantages to not being CEO," said, before rattling off his Top 10 list.

10. He does not have to apologize to Wall Street for saying anything; Schwartz now does.9. He is no longer on the most overpaid CEOs list. 8. He can defer to Schwartz. 7. He can read "The Hockey News" magazine without guilt. 6. He shaves even less often. 5. He is no longer responsible for Sarbanes-Oxley certifications. 4. Someone else can take the blame. 3. He can sell his last business suit. 2. He can play golf since Schwartz does not. 1. His new office is close to the men's room.

In other remarks, McNealy:

* Criticized IBM, saying it seeks custom implementations of SOA that require users to purchase services from IBM Global Services. IBM, he said, offers to help customers "build their own custom Frankenstein and IBM Global Services helps them."

* Questioned Microsoft's focus, noting the company is vying with Google, with the Sony Playstation, with Oracle, and with SAP. "There's a lot of places and spaces where they're going," he said.

* Noted that Java and .Net are the dominant development platforms; Sun and Microsoft technologists, working on interoperability efforts, have respect for each other.

* Responding to a question about many former Sun employees returning to the Sun fold, McNealy said this is something that has been going on for more than 24 years. Recruiters like to lure Sun employees, who depart and then want to come back, McNealy said, referring to the returning persons as "boomerangs." Having employees leave and start their own ventures enables them to take on tasks Sun might not get to. He cited BEA Systems as an example, with its application server. "It was much better that BEA was there," McNealy said.

* Asked about the impact of Dell Computer's decision to begin using chips from Advanced Micro Devices, he said, "I think it's probably a bigger impact on Intel than anybody."

During the morning keynote, James Gosling, CTO for the Java enterprise and developer group at Sun, presented a video tribute to McNealy that featured people such as former Sun executives Bill Joy and Eric Schmidt; Gosling; McNealy's wife, Susan, and their four young sons.

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