Under The Sun

The Changing Operating Systems

Smith:How does this relate to the increasingly popular Linux operating system?

McNealy: Linux has the right idea as far as being open and encouraging participation. The drawback with [fully] open source is, there's no clear control over compatibility issues. [Sun allows input into changes by outside programmers, but makes the final decisions.] We've tried to take an approach that combines the best aspects of the open-source model with the best aspects of traditional licensing-namely, ensuring compatibility. That's just absolutely crucial in a networked world. Also, every time someone uses Linux, they're not using Windows, they're using something much more UNIX-like, much more akin to our own Solaris environment.

Smith:But what about all the PCs and Macs everyone already has? Even though everyone hates the buggy software and the frequent crashes, it's part of a system that can't just be jettisoned. It all has to be serv-iced, and it's hard to find competent people to do that. If you were an entrepreneur, how would you address these challenges?

McNealy: In a word, outsource. If you're a florist, a baker, a travel agent or whatever, technology is not your strong suit-and it shouldn't have to be. That's why Sun has been so focused on the service-provider model, providing the kind of reliable, scalable infrastructure that service providers need to be successful-and make you successful.

My advice is to focus on what you do best, and let your service provider worry about the technical stuff. After all, when was the last time your electric company asked you to noodle with its power plant?

Smith:How might the changes you foresee in computing impact education? We ask not just out of interest in the quality of education for our children, but because this seems to be a hot growth area for business for the next decades.

McNealy: Right. Just look at what's happening in the dotcom world, with all kinds of companies reinventing themselves. It quickly becomes clear that the business of education will also change. It will have to. Colleges and universities can't afford to think of students in the same old ways. They're not all 18- to 20-something any longer. More and more are adults with jobs and children. They're people who need to keep learning to keep up with changing times, to ensure their professional growth or transition into new careers.

Look at it this way: One day, every man, woman and child will be connected to a high-speed network at all times. That's a huge market. Anyone who can come up with a compelling online curriculum stands to do well.

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This article was originally published in the August 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Under The Sun.

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