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The allure of a host of Internet devices is their ability to bring in more users. Their convenience and ease-of-use promotes a more ubiquitous presence for the Web and the information located there. Java goes after this “embedded” software market by powering the programs that run everything from phone switches to factory automation equipment.
Java-Powered Net "Appliances"
Stripped-down desktop computers run programs downloaded from the Internet.
TVs and Cable Set-Top Boxes
TCI will distribute 20 million Java-equipped set-top boxes to encourage communication over cable.
Simple devices for straightforward services such as grocery ordering.
Cellular phones and pagers
Cellular phone manufacturers plan to use Java to offer new services through their cellular devices.
Java smart cards program routine processes, such as airline ticket purchases directly on the cards.
Navigation and diagnostic systems powered by Java programs.
Java-powered rings and pass cards.15
McNealy billed Java as the killer of Microsoft Windows. Sun claims Java is ideally suited for the “network computer” (NC) —a low-cost machine that has no hard drive, relying instead on a network that would supply it with small Java programs. Plummeting personal computer prices have stalled the takeoff of the NC, but McNealy and Sun remain committed to the idea. “Every day, 27,000 people (at Sun) get up and do one thing: network computing,” claims Ed Zander. “That’s a very, very powerful story.”16
In perhaps its greatest coup to date, on November 24, 1998, Sun signed an alliance agreement with America Online in association with its $4.2 billion purchase of Netscape Communications. Access to Netscape’s e-commerce software allows Sun to hawk its servers and attract customers that want a more complete package.17 In addition, Sun has access to one of the three largest portals on the Web. In exchange for providing $350 million
in licensing, marketing, and advertising fees for the deal, AOL agrees to buy $500 million in Sun servers over the next three years.
Open system advocates were originally concerned about AOL’s involvement in the deal. They felt that AOL might hinder the free distribution of Netscape’s browser. However, Stephen Case, AOL founder, assures doubters that the partnership will continue to allow free access to Netscape’s browser technology. He intends to depend on Sun Microsystems to develop systems to provide Internet access over next-generation devices.
As a partner with AOL and Netscape, Sun is now in position to challenge IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and others in developing the systems that will let corporations rebuild their businesses in cyberspace. The challenge for Sun CEO Scott G. McNealy will be to behave like the top-tier industry leader that this deal may finally make him. And he’ll need to make sure that Sun not only talks like a good partner but behaves like one, too.18
A major factor in Sun’s favor is a world in which companies will choose to outsource anything that’s not a demonstrably clear competitive advantage. Things such as human resources, financials, e-mail, and Web hosting all will clearly follow in the steps of payroll and facility security—that is, they’ll be outsourced. Sun’s been saying that the network is the computer for at least a decade. Oracle has been talking the talk for about three years. SAP was founded on the principle of centralized control in the early 1970s. But so far, no vendor has been able to convince any company that it should put its technological assets into someone else’s hands. This is starting to change.19
The firm most strategically positioned to take advantage of this shift
is Sun or possibly IBM Global Services. Scott McNealy has stated several times that companies should never think about purchasing another server again. He means that companies should leave the costs of maintaining scalability and reliability of fundamental systems to someone that specializes in the technology.20
Even so, the Internet must continue to evolve in order for Sun to realize its vision. John McFarlane. head of Solaris software, puts it plainly. “We depend upon extreme reliability, availability and scalability as a market differentiator.... I know from my seventeen years as a Nortel employee how much it hurts when there’s a service failure of any kind, and how great it feels when the network would take a licking and keep on ticking. The same ethic applies at Sun. We run our own company systems on Sun, and our average downtime is about 22 minutes per-employee-per-year. Another way to put it is we experience about 99.96% uptime for every company user. We won a contract with the New York Stock Exchange because of our ability to deliver their required 99.99% uptime—and so far we’re at 100%. If the Internet is truly to succeed as the next great communication medium for mainstream users, and the WebTone is to truly represent the same level of connectivity as the dialtone, then that level of reliability must be our model for all users. We call it the utility model of computing.” 21