In-Depth

Bridging the Digital Divide

In his keynote, Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy acknowledged a digital divide in today's world and asked the Java community to help eliminate it. See what else he said about Sun's future.

Before he prevailed upon the Java community to participate in causes to benefit mankind, Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy began his keynote by announcing that Sun had just signed, in the wee hours of the morning, an agreement to acquire SeeBeyond. SeeBeyond offers Integrated Composite Application Network (ICAN) Suite 5, a fully integrated platform for developing and deploying enterprise application integration (EAI) and composite applications.

McNealy invited SeeBeyond Founder and CEO James Demetriades up on stage to briefly introduce SeeBeyond and its flagship product. The ICAN Suite platform can be used to create a series of services that can be orchestrated, including knitting together legacy architectures. It also runs on app server technology. Look for the full announcement in the fall when the acquisition is fully finalized.

McNealy then turned to the familiar refrain attendees have been hearing at this year's JavaOne by saying he believes the community process can be expanded through participation to address the goal of eliminating the digital divide. He called upon the developer community to get involved in meeting this goal.

"Imagine turning off every device, everything you own, and living life on the other side of that digital divide," McNealy said. "Turn off all of your IP devices, and try to live your life, make a living." McNealy asked the audience to consider those folks all around the world who aren't connected. "If you're not online, you're at a huge disadvantage. I'm asking for your help to eliminate the digital divide."

McNealy discussed two primary areas in which he was enlisting the Java community to help out: health care and education. Asking the audience to consider how fortunate we have it, and to consider how it must be for those who don't have the same advantages, he turned first to the health care industry. McNealy said he couldn't think of another industry as in need of improvement.

He pointed out how most of us who visit our doctors under the current health care system must suffer through the redundancy of filling out the same forms at each visit to provide the same information about our allergies and medical histories, citing this as one example of a system that among other astonishing statistics accounted for $300 billion per year spent on treatments that yielded no benefit. Comparing the significance of that line item to the computer industry, he said it was akin to the expense of an operating system upgrade, drawing laughter from the audience.

Going further, he pointed out doctors' departure from the industry because of malpractice suits, and the severe shortages of nurses and other caregivers. "And the demographics aren't getting any better," he said, acknowledging the increasing burden an aging population will mean for the system. McNealy said that the whole concept of an e-health care initiative is critical, and that as an industry "we have to come together and help solve this problem. We have to get the health care system integrated."

McNealy then introduced a short video clip that highlighted recent efforts in Brazil to apply technology to its national health care system. Following the clip he invited Fabiane Nardon, CTO of the Brazilian National Health Systems, to describe the process. McNealy simply asked Nardon why Java was chosen. She said that when the Brazilian government decided that all the health systems should be built on a standard platform, it decided on J2EE. The project generated 2.5 million lines of Java code over a four-month period, according to Nardon.

And to punctuate the "sharing" and "participation" themes that permeated both McNealy's address and Jonathan Schwartz's the day before, Nardon pointed out that the Brazilian system is open sourced for the public health sector so that other countries looking to upgrade their health care systems can use it too.

McNealy also asked the Java community to participate in education, another area that "is about as fragmented and unscientific as any out there," McNealy said. He said that despite current initiatives, such as "no child left behind," there should be more aggressive efforts to provide access to content, help educators, produce content that is stimulating and interactive, and figure out ways to get the money to fund these improvements.

He said that a third-grade math textbook, for example, costs about $120, and despite "gratuitous updates every four years," the content still has not really evolved beyond Newton being hit on the head with an apple. McNealy suggested that the community can work toward developing systems that use science and statistics to upgrade educational materials and curricula. He asked developers to envision a scenario in which a community member can develop a better Chapter 3 for that third-grade math textbook, put it out on the network where it can be tested, and then evaluate it against the current version of the chapter, employing a scientific approach to enhancing the content.

In short, McNealy prevailed upon the Java community to develop content for the network so students can have online access to the textbook, supporting materials, tests, and evaluation software. Students can use the technology interactively to learn the material, test themselves, and compare their results against the performances of other students their age.

McNealy concluded his keynote by providing a number of Web sites that Sun is involved with in working toward the goal of improving education. He also asked the community to get involved in helping mentor young developers.

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