- By John K. Waters
I've been jumping around the Valley like a hoptoad on a
hotplate for the past couple of weeks (an apt simile, given the Bay Area's
recent butt-scorching temps), but I'm taking five to catch up on a few local
events that didn't get much play in the press.
Scott McNealy: Act II
I was reminded recently that the ''post-Gates'' era is also the post-McNealy
era. Scott McNealy, former CEO of Sun
Microsystems, revealed that he would be stepping away from the day-to-day
operations of the company he co-founded just about a month before Bill Gates
made a similar announcement. McNealy doesn't have as much cash to give away as
his long-time rival (actually, no one does), but he's doing the ex-chief-exec
thing with crusty aplomb.
For example: McNealy was on hand in Palo Alto last week to cut the figurative
ribbon on the new Stanford University Center for Computational Earth and
Environmental Science (CEES).
An extension of Stanford's School of Earth Sciences, the CEES will house an
interdisciplinary research program focused on big compute problems, such as
climate change. And it'll be equipped with Sun hardware and software.
The center grew out of a partnership among Stanford's earth sciences school,
the U.S. Geological Survey, and several private companies, including Sun, Cisco Systems, 3DGO,
Chevron, and BP.
Sun contributed $3 million worth of stuff to the center's
new High Performance Computing facility. After the opening ceremonies, CEES
IT manager Dennis Michael showed off three six-foot stacks of Sun Opteron and
SPARC servers running the Solaris OS, which will serve most of the HPC needs of
the students and facility working at the center. The CEES is also connected to the Sun
Grid Network, which means that anyone with a PayPal account can buy computer
cycles on the massive grid for about a buck an hour.
''We think the big problems are going to get solved with this super computing
model,'' McNealy said. ''...We're making supercomputing available to any and
See? Helping humanity while flogging the product; that's how you do it.
BTW: Mr. Gates has
not ignored the school that pioneered the study of electrical engineering.
Stanford University's Gates Computer Science Building, which opened in 1996, is
the result of a $6 million gift from the Microsoft
founder. (I heard it was some loose change from his sock drawer.)
Yahoo Opens Up its IM System, Hacks Itself
Yahoo just announced that it is opening
up its instant messaging platform further to allow outside developers to extend
the system's functionality. Along with the latest beta release of Yahoo
Messenger with Voice, the company brought out some serious dev tools for
creating plug-ins for the IM system.
This company has been nurturing its fledgling developer community for a while
now. Among other things, Yahoo has been providing APIs for its IM network to,
for example, expose presence and buddy-list information on a Web site. But
according to VP of product strategy Bradley Horowitz, the new tools will provide
even broader access to the platform.
''We're taking one of our core products,'' he said. ''Not something at the
margins. Not something from an acquisition. But something that touches the heart
of what we do at Yahoo in terms of connecting people. And we've brought that
same spirit of openness and innovation and inclusion to the developer community
and the world. It's a testament to how serious we are about the Yahoo Developer Network.''
Horowitz was speaking to a group of bloggers invited to Yahoo headquarters in
Sunnyvale for an early peak and a free lunch. With the phrase ''that same spirit
of openness,'' Horowitz was referring to Yahoo's Hack Day, which we (the
bloggers) had just learned was starting at noon that very day—and about which we
just wouldn't shut up. Horowitz eventually got us focused on the IM
stuff, and I'm glad he did. But I also have to say that this Hack Day thing is
easily one of the coolest corporate cultural phenomena I've heard about in
Yahoo's Hack Day is a combination pressure-release valve and instant R&D
mechanism. It's a 24-hour period during which everyone in the company stops
business as usual and ''innovates''—in other words, they take their pet ideas
and work them into prototypes. Everyone in the company is invited to
participate, including non-developers. If a bizdev guy has a great idea, he/she
gets out there and recruits engineers and coders to help. At the end of the 24
hours, employees gather in the big cafeteria to present their projects to senior
execs. They have about 90 seconds, Horowitz says, because they get 200-300
This is the company's third Hack Day. The concept was reportedly introduced
last year by JotSpot, the application wiki, and
Yahoo is running with it.
Of course ''hack'' in this context is not a pejorative, Horowitz hastened to
emphasize. ''Hack Yahoo is about fuck the process, end run it,
get shit done, and make it so compelling that they can't but say
The Hack Day credo is equally impellent: ''Mash up or shut up.'' They even
Open Source Chat
Meanwhile, up the road at the Computer History Museum in Mountain
View, The Churchill Club
held an executive roundtable on the state of open
source software. (Full disclosure: I'm a member of the museum, not
It was an articulate and
often entertaining group that included Andy Astor, CEO of EnterpriseDB; Stuart Cohen,
CEO of Open Source Development Labs; Rich
Green, EVP of Sun Microsystems's software division; Kim Polese, CEO of SpikeSource; and the ever incendiary Marc
Fleury, SVP and GM of Red Hat's new JBoss
Division. The panel was moderated by Sarah Lacy, who covers OSS for BusinessWeek.
The conversation, though, ranged over some fairly well trodden territory: How
will established software companies' business practices change in response to
the increasing enterprise adoption of OSS? In which cases will the closed source
development and proprietary licensing duo remain the preferred model for
commercial success? When is ''good enough'' open source software good enough for
mission-critical enterprise use? What will continue to motivate communities of
open source developers to contribute their time, effort, and expertise, and how
should these communities be nurtured?
Still, it was interesting to hear from the guys in the open-source trenches.
Andy Astor offered the most cogent observation of the evening on commercial
open source: ''The right question to ask [about commercial open source] is,
'What's working?''' he said. ''What has long-term capability? What lasts? We're
watching the capitalist model at work with a new brick in its foundation.''
Astor's company is an open-source relational database management system
provider. EnterpriseDB was built on PostgreSQL, and the company competes with
Oracle and MySQL.
''When we started our company,'' Astor added later, ''it was not the advent
of open source that made this business attractive, it was the acceptance of open
source that made it attractive.''
Kim Polese, who also founded Marimba and was the original product manager for
Java, managed to field more than a few questions about the efficacy of her
company's evolving business model without seeming defensive (which I count as no
''The game has changed completely,'' she said. ''There is no rulebook, no
guidebook to consult... We're having to be creative here on how we bring these
products to market.''
The company she runs today, SpikeSource, is developing OSS support services
for small- and medium-sized businesses and value-added resellers.
Marc Fleury, inimitable founder of JBoss, which Red Hat recently acquired and
which he still manages, can't help but add spice to any panel he's a part of.
Fleury gets dinged a lot for his often confrontational comments (I've dinged him
myself), but his bluntness can be downright refreshing. And the truth is, he
knows his business. He weighed in on the subject of commercial open source.
''When you talk about [open source in] enterprise markets, it's about
trusting the brands,'' he said. ''If you're a global 2000 [company], Ubuntu and
what army of Zulus is going to support you? At the fringes of innovation, in the
kernel community, you have that raw developer who likes to do his own thing...
For the enterprise we see the reverse.''
Answering a question from the audience about which big commercial
software vendor—Microsoft, IBM, Oracle, or SAP—would do the best job of coping with an
increasingly open-sources world, he chose what might be the unlikeliest of the
''Why? They hate it,'' he said. ''They're not confused with it. When
everybody else is falling all over themselves—we like, but we don't like it,
we're conflicted... We've got WebSphere children's edition and then enterprise
edition... Microsoft says, we hate your guts on the model front, but we'll
collaborate with you... [O]nce they put their arms around 'we hate this thing
and there's no need to discuss this any longer, but how can we work with it to
service the customers,' they do a good job.''
His tortured syntax notwithstanding, given Microsoft's announcement this week
that it has launched its new CodePlex collaborative Web portal, the guy seems