Friday, October 30, 2009

`Technology has a banana's shelf life'

MUMBAI: Scott McNealy, the 52-year-old co-founder and chairman of Sun Microsystems, is known to be colourful and controversial. And he didn’t disappoint. On his second visit to India on Thursday, Mr McNealy outlined Sun’s vision to bridge the digital divide through open source technologies and rubbished the usefulness of proprietary technology.

“Technology has the shelf life of a banana. By the time you buy it, implement it and train people on it, it’s obsolete. The right thing to do is to share IP. Rather than litigate and protect our IP, we’ve decide to innovate and share it,” Mr McNealy said in a not-so-veiled reference to Microsoft.

Enterprises, he said, should look not just at acquisition cost and operating costs associated with a software but also the buried exit clause. The cost of getting out a proprietary system and moving to another environment was enormous, and companies needed to factor in this cost as well. “The buried exit cost could be 10 times the cost A (acquisition cost) plus cost B (operating costs),” he said, using heroin addiction as an analogy. Even if heroin was given for free, it had to be paid for later.

And nor was Microsoft the only corporation at the receiving end. IBM’s DB2 database, Novell’s directory, storage system vendors, and other open source vendors got their fair share of ridicule and fun. Sun, Mr McNealy said, could provide everything from servers to storage technology, and operating systems to chips. Sun’s newest foray is into microelectronics or chips. The design of its Ultrasparc T2 chip that will roll out in the summer of this year is available for free download and McNealy said companies in China were downloading it and building variants of it.

Mr McNealy positioned Sun as a provider of entire systems rather than piece-meal components. “I’m building an airplane in my garage. I’ve got the wings from Boeing, the interiors from Airbus, other spare from makers of aircraft parts.. now I’ll let you fly in it. I’ll let you drive it. Suddenly, the food on United Airlies looks good,” he joked, prompting guffaws from the audience.

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