Scott Mc Nealy

Founder of SunMicrosystems with BillJoy.

I've never heard ScottMcNealy speak, but one thing that I really admire about the guy is the story of how the Green project started (which eventually became Java). I won't try to summarize it here; see JavaHistory. It certainly makes an excellent example of one CEO who wasn't too proud to learn lessons from a bright young programmer who was about to leave Sun -- RichardDrake
When I was listening to Bill Gates yesterday, I kept thinking of how Gates compares to another guy: Scott McNealy. If you've been asleep for the past 20 years, McNealy runs Sun, and Gates runs Microsoft.

I've heard both speak several times over the past decade.

These two guys can't be more different in their approach to computing and their approach to leadership.

The last time I heard McNealy speak (at a Comdex a few years ago), all he did for an hour was bash Microsoft.

Yesterday, Gates bashed himself and his company and his CEO. All in fun, but some in seriousness. He demonstrated that he's able to admit where his software sucks, where his company sucks, and that he has a lot of fun at the same time. He's a geek and enjoys playing with technology.

Now, whether you agree with how he's making it better or not (and I don't always agree with Gates and his executive team)... . Even yesterday, Jim Allchin (the third-most-powerful guy at Microsoft) said he believes that someday computers won't have keyboards and that we'll talk with them. I totally believe that vision is complete bullshit. I don't want to talk to my computer very much (yes, I hope that I can talk to my computer +sometimes+ but not all the time). But, I digress.

Back to Gates vs McNealy. Whether you like Gates or not, at least he always shows me something about what the future will look like. I've seen him talk something like a dozen times, and he usually shows me something new (and he usually delivers on his predictions. I laughed along with the other MVPs when he said he is spending $5 billion in research and development to bet on his dreams coming true).

When I hear McNealy speak, what does he show me? I was excited by his Java vision when I first saw it. Hey, it was Visual Basic done for a variety of platforms (I always hated that Visual Basic was only on Windows. Funnily enough, Gates promised me personally in 1994 that Visual Basic would be ported to the Macintosh. That never happened).

Anyway, Java turned me on because it made PCs (no matter what OS they run) have more software. More software for PCs is good, in my view.

But McNealy never did take the dream further. He never explained after that initial rush how he was going to improve the dream and make PCs even better in the future (OK, he did put Java on cell phones, but Gates has gone beyond that. He showed me how he's putting not just a language runtime on a cell phone, but an entire operating system that can do a lot more than the Java runtime). McNealy didn't because Sun isn't a PC company, and I believe he really doesn't believe in PCs. If you hear him speak, it's pretty clear that he thinks PCs suck. Well, sorry, that argument is ringing hollow lately.

So, when McNealy speaks at Comdex, he rarely tells me how Sun is going to improve my life. He rarely takes advantage of the opportunity to show me something cool. Instead, he attacks Gates. I understand that. I attack Gates myself sometimes; the guy and his company certainly aren't perfect.

Listen, I'm human.

As a human, I want to believe in something. I want to have my life improved. And, I look at what Gates is telling me about what the future will be like, and I come away energized. The guy is giving me a vision that's pretty damn cool. Yes, I do want to put my digital photos on a tablet PC that sits on my coffee table and guaging on reactions among the other MVPs, so do lots of other people.

He sees a world where PCs do a lot of cool things. The tablet PC he's showing off is damn cool. I want one. He talks about how he wants to 802.11-enable your entire computing experience. I am totally behind that. 802.11 has changed my computing life immeasurably. He talks about the disaggregation of PCs (PCs are getting "exploded" into lots of little screens and devices in your home and life), and I totally buy off on that. It's already happening in my home as I do more and more with my PocketPC and my laptop, and less and less with my desktop PC (which is a freaking great machine).

What does McNealy show me? Nothing cool. He doesn't even tell me how Sun is improving the Java platform. All he did the last time I saw him on TechTV was attack Microsoft.

Now, you might say "well, Gates has the gold and can afford to play that game."

Well, that's bullshit, pure and simple. To answer why, let me go in a different direction for a second. One of the MVPs asked me "why you working at UserLand?" I answered: "because every day Dave Winer shows me a vision of the future and delivers on it."

Now Dave has a fraction of the resources of Scott McNealy. What does UserLand have? A handful of programmers (literally). Sun has thousands. But UserLand is building the damn coolest Web publishing tool I've ever seen (and that's no bullshit, I've been using all the best publishing tools since I discovered PageMaker in 1987 and FrontPage in 1996). Yeah, Dave attacks Gates once in a while too. So do I. It's easy to do once in a while (particularly when Gates does something like Microsoft Bob or SmartTags?).

So, if Dave can have a vision, McNealy could have one too.

Hell, Apple's Steve Jobs has a vision. I looked at OSX two nights ago in a shootout I had with another MVP (we were comparing Windows XP to OSX), and I'm damn impressed. There's a lot that's better about OSX than Windows XP. Jobs rarely attacks Gates either, and almost always shows off cool stuff on stage.

If you have a dream, it doesn't matter how much money or how many programmers you have. You go after your dream. Dave teaches me that every day. Bill Gates teaches me that every time he speaks (and he was quite open with us yesterday). You can see in Gates eyes that he has fun with technology. He's one of us, albeit he has a few billion in his pocket.

McNealy? What's his dream? Can anyone explain it to me?

And, if you think I just don't agree with McNealy explaining why I'm attacking him you haven't really read what I'm saying.

McNealy is different from, say, Larry Ellison, who puts a vision on the table that I totally disagree with. I respect Ellison for at least trying to go someplace with his company. Or, look at Carly Fiona at HP. She has a vision of growing HP by buying Compaq. I don't know if I agree or disagree with that, but at least she tells me where she'd like to take HP, and how that might help my life in the future. McNealy isn't telling me how Sun will approach the market. For that he's making a fundamental mistake and guarantees that Gates will continue to kick his ass.

Scott's big idea is "web tone" -- the concept that network resources will be ubiquitous and available everywhere and all the time. When you pick up the phone you get a dial tone. Scott wants there to be a web tone that is just as much a part of peoples lives as the dial tone. He's not interested in building what you can see as much as he's interested in building all of the stuff you don't see and don't think about. Stuff that you rely on so completely and that is so reliable that you don't think about it anymore. In his ideal world the desktop computer is just an access point to the real computer: the network, and your data is stored in a centralized location that is highly accessible so that it seems to follow you around.
From a keynote he gave on ONEDay 2003 (Dutch JavaONE-in-a-day):

First of all, when Scott says he's not going to mention Microsoft, he means that he's not actually going to use their name (except for a couple of 'slips of the tongue' - yeah right), but he definitely is going to talk about Microsoft. Apparently, Scott likes Linux as much as Bill does. Apparently, Scott likes open source as much as Bill does. With friends like that, who needs enemies?

While Scott may not like BillGates, my suspicion is that he would LOVE to become him.

April 2, 2004. SunMicrosystems just announced a huge quarterly loss (despite a nearly $2 billion settlement in the MS lawsuit), resulting in 3,000 Sun employees losing their jobs.

ScottMcNealy has just been appointed a COO.

Something tells me that it will soon be 3,001 Sun employees looking for work (see SignsYouAreAboutToGetSacked)


View edit of October 8, 2014 or FindPage with title or text search