JavaOne 06 DayFour

The streets outside the Moscone Center are a bustling blur and the beanbag chairs down by the big screen are calling my name.

 

Must be Day Four of JavaOne .

 

Scott McNealy took the stage today to close the conference, and he looked more relaxed than he has in a while— which I suppose means that his new role is agreeing with him.

 

And he's still a wiseacre, which I found comforting. He quipped that all the execs at Sun are now ''trying desperately to grow a pony tail.'' His pre-pony-tailed successor, Mr. Schwartz, who was also onstage, smiled tolerantly.

 

McNealy offered his trademark theft of a David Letterman bit: his Top Ten list. This year the subject was ''the Top 10 best things about not being CEO.'' To wit:

  • No. 10: ''I don't have to apologize for the stuff I say to Wall Street, Jonathan does.''
  • No. 9: ''I'm no longer on the most overpaid CEO list.''
  • No. 8: ''I just say, 'See Jonathan on that.''
  • No. 7: ''I read Hockey News without guilt.''
  • No. 6: ''I shave even less often.''
  • No. 5: ''No more SOX (Sarbanes-Oxley) certifications to sign.''
  • No. 4: ''I have someone to blame now.''
  • No. 3: ''I can sell my last business suit.''
  • No. 2: ''Jonathan doesn't golf, so I guess I gotta do it.''
  • And the No. 1 best thing about no longer being the CEO of Sun? ''My new office is very close to the men's room.''

An oldie but a goldie, the list got some big laughs.

 

McNealy grew serious as he talked about his latest passion: using Java to bridge the so-called digital divide. He brought up this somewhat dated concept at the RSA Security conference earlier this year, but I suspect that it's been on his to-do list for quite a while. And he imbued it today with urgency with some disturbing statistics. Even though we're now in what McNealy calls ''The Participation Age,'' in which more than three million new people are added to the network each week, ''three out of four folks on the planet [are] not connected,'' he said. ''It's an enormous tragedy, but also a huge opportunity.''

 

''You,'' he added, referring to the Java jocks in the audience, ''are cursed with the opportunity to really make a difference on this planet.''

 

McNealy's take on this problem is both original and self-serving— which is to say, fascinating: He dismissed MIT Media Lab co-founder Nicholas Negroponte's $100-PC-for-the-masses idea because of it's potential for negative environmental impact. ''Imagine all [people] turning on Dell computers tomorrow,'' he said. ''We'd be three feet under from global warming.'' The better solution, he insisted, is some combination of Web services, thin clients, and network computing.

 

''The goal is to get everybody on the network,'' he said. ''And in my new job I'm spending a lot of time working on this and talking to governments around the world.''

 

Later, James Gosling showed a video commemorating McNealy's days in the big chair at Sun. In the video, Gosling, the guy credited with creating Java, credited McNealy with making Java real. ''Without Scott McNealy, there's no way Java would have happened,'' he said. Some former Sun execs were also featured on the video, including co-founders Bill Joy and Eric Schmidt (now CEO at Google). Gosling also presented McNealy with a golden statue of Duke, Java's marshmallowy mascot, and a plaque.

 

***

 

Earlier this week, I dubbed ''AJAX'' the buzzword of this year's conference, but a very close second was ''NetBeans.'' Sun was pounding the NetBeans drum at a ferocious beat this year (think ''Wipeout'' meets ''Ina Goda Davida''). They even held a NetBeans Day prior to the show at the Argent Hotel, which was reportedly packed.

 

NetBeans is a great family of tools, which is getting better, and it has a devoted following. But it's not clear to me why Sun continues to put so much muscle and money behind a free Java IDE in a world all but taken over by Eclipse.

 

I posed this question to just about everybody at the conference, and I have to say that I never got a perfect answer. But I did get a plausible explanation from Sun's Richard Sands. Sands is a marketing dude focused on Java SE, but he managed to come across as a straight shooter anyway.

 

''Why do we continue to support NetBeans, as opposed to just joining Eclipse and getting it over with, so to speak?'' he said. ''The reason is that choice is what it's all about in developer land. If you have only one toolset out there, that isn't going to advance the state of developer tools. You need competition to have a healthy market, and we believe that NetBeans a very competitive offering.''

 

I guess if you believe that having choices among genuinely competitive products is important, and no one else is offering a serious alternative, the responsible thing to do is offer that choice. It sounds a little like marketing BS, but it could also be the answer.

 

Anybody out there got a better one?

 

BTW: I never gave in to the siren call of the beanbag chairs. Oh, they're bulgy soft, like vinyl-covered dollops of cloud. And dropping down into one after a long week of hot footing it around Moscone might seem like the perfect reward. But their squishy allure is dangerous bait for the husky reporter, who, once ensnared, finds himself in a smothering embrace from which he cannot extract himself without considerable embarrassment.

 

Next year, I'm hoping for La-Z-Boys.

 

Ciao for now.

 

###

 

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