A Year Ago: Sun says it won't buy Netscape

First published: Mon, 16 Feb 1998 16:48:02 GMT
Written by Lisa M. Bowman, Contributor

Sun Microsystems Inc. Chief Executive Scott McNealy bashed U.S. encryption policy, hawked Java, and ran down a Top Ten list that poked fun at rumors saying Sun would buy Netscape Communications Corp.

Top Ten lists have become popular among technology executives-including Bill Gates- as a way to break the ice in front of a crowd. During his speech before the Churchill Club in Silicon Valley Thursday night, McNealy capped on news that a Canadian snowboarder had nearly lost his Olympic gold medal after testing positive for marijuana. McNealy ran down a Top Ten list of marijuana-induced situations in the computer industry, including: "Sun considers buying Netscape," "Windows won't work without Explorer, your honor," and "Let's call that product 'Bob,'" referring to Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) failed interface.

On the serious side, McNealy criticized U.S. encryption policy, which prohibits the export of strong security products. He said easing the laws would boost Internet use. "I think more people will get on the Net, and all the advantages of the Net will be available to everyone if we feel safe on the network," McNealy said.

He also touted the benefits of Java, the language developed at Sun (SUNW), saying someday it will allow people to log onto their network from any computer using just a smart card and a password. He said to look for more hardware companies and credit card firms to release handheld Java-powered devices in the coming months.

"You're going to stop carrying your computer around with you," McNealy said, adding that he can always spot those who cart around laptops because of their hunched-over walk.

And, of course, McNealy took a few jabs at Microsoft, saying the company's purchase of WebTV angered other device makers, who've since converted to Java. He also made a few predictions about Microsoft's legal battle with the U.S. Justice Department.

"Either Java and the Web are going to overcome the Microsoft hairball or [they're] not, and the government's going to have to step in," McNealy said. He said most companies won't take on Microsoft because the software maker can always find other partners. "It's a lonely battle."

But McNealy did express a bit of Microsoft envy, saying he'd gladly accept a surprise pie in the face, as Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates did last week. "He doesn't need the publicity," McNealy quipped. "I do."

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