By Steven Schwankert
The Grouch's neighbor over in Silicon Hutong wrote an interesting commentary about Microsoft in China and around the world. In it, he mentions how crybabies like Sun Microsystems' Scott McNealy hauled the Redmond company into court and harassed it for anti-trust and monopolistic activities, of which it was most likely guilty.
As one can see, and certainly as any long-time reader of the Grouch will know, the Grouch is no fan of either company. He does use Microsoft's Office suite of products, but eschews both the Windows operating system (has no one thought that one of the easiest ways to break into a building is through the Window?) and the Internet Explorer browser, which is like using a home security system built by an ex-convict.
However, for this particular exercise, the Grouch will focus on Sun. This author chuckled heartily when Sun announced it would create a desktop system for the Chinese market. Oh really? Well, we'll just hold our collective breath for that one, which should appear the day after Microsoft's video-on-demand service launches in Guangdong; Legend's Internet JV with AOL Time Warner takes off (yes, the Grouch knows, they already announced the cancellation of this); and the Chinese government's wholesale migration to Linux takes place. The Tenth Ring Road in Beijing will be announced, built, opened, and turned into human suffering from bumper-to-bumper traffic before this ever rolls out.
Sun is the embodiment of why the open source movement as an economic force or reality is doomed to fail. Many years ago (look it up at www.sun.com if you really care) Sun Microsystems and all the big brains that work there invented something called JAVA, which stands for something something something something. What Java can do, besides slowing down my computer when it downloads ads, is really quite significant.
Of course, Sun, which takes the surfer's approach to software (it's a free ocean/software should be free/dude [hold up two fingers, make peace sign]) has utterly failed to monetize this, which explains their completely irrational move into both servers and storage, and more importantly, their share price, which despite recent improvements in the technological landscape still languishes around the US$5 mark.
Now, for people who know nothing about China, an announcement like "Sun Microsystems, Inc. recently announced an agreement with the China Standard Software Co., Ltd. (CSSC) to establish Sun's Java Desktop System as the foundation for standard desktop development and deployment in China" sounds like really big news. Market-moving news, almost. Those of us that live here know that's like the Grouch saying "The Grouch is now the Emperor of Sichuan Province! All hail!"
Let's give this a brief but sharp look: "the foundation for standard desktop development and deployment in China." Hmm, the Grouch wonders what factual basis there is for that statement. Does Sun or CSSC (whoever they are) really think that millions of computer users nationwide are going to give up their current systems for Java? Except for in the 1980s, when computer users gave up MS-DOS for Windows, when was the last time there was that kind of sea change? Try never. Apple tried it and Apple failed. Linux tried it and Linux has failed. Anybody else?
You see, the Grouch has a very long memory. The Grouch knows the kind of goods Sun has tried to sell to the IT community and the public at large over the last four or five years. He remembers when Java phones were touted as the next step in mobile computing, that people would download applications to their phones, and they would even open spreadsheets on their devices. Oh really? A spreadsheet on a screen that's one square inch? That sounds like a useful business tool.
The fact is, Sun hasn't innovated in over a decade, and that's a generous estimate. What the Grouch doesn't understand is, why is Scott McNealy still CEO? If he were a Sun shareholder, especially one with enough shares to warrant a seat on the board, the Grouch would be showing this guy the door. Larry Ellison can at least say, "Well, I was out sailing or getting married again, I didn't see the sales figures that day." Scott McNealy has no excuse.
More importantly, it demonstrates that if Sun, which has a guy like Bill Joy (do a Google search) on the payroll, can't get its share price into double digits, then these other open-source guys are similarly prayerless. We don't have to like Microsoft, but the fact is, their model works. Two or three of their guys are among the 10 richest people in the world. Their operating system brings in US$1 billion in cash per month. Now don't tell the Grouch for one second that the open source movement, which is loosely based on no one paying for anything, is going to overtake that.
About the author:
Steven Schwankert is a former editor of Computerworld Hong Kong, based in Beijing. He can be reached at [email protected]