McNealy Weighs In on Linux, Unix, Sun

Sun CEO offers views on Linux, Unix and company's future.

Sun Microsystems Inc. Chairman and CEO Scott McNealy is no stranger to technology cycles. In the 21 years of Suns existence, the Santa Clara, Calif., company has been at the top and bottom and in the middle of several. In this one-on-one interview with eWEEK Editor in Chief Eric Lundquist, McNealy answers questions about Linux, Unix and the future direction of the company.

Lets get to the [The] SCO [Group]-Linux dispute. SCO has claimed that Linux misappropriates some Unix technology. Should Linux customers be worried?

If SCO decides to go after end users and ask for a royalty, that is a liability the end users are taking on.

But if the customer goes or stays with the Solaris version of Unix, they are safe, correct?

You can choose the open-source lifestyle Linux kernel or the Solaris kernel. We will indemnify you on the Solaris kernel. Youll have to go ask Red Hat [Inc.] if they will indemnify you on Linux.

You bought the rights to Unix some time ago.

We did that in 1991. We spent [$80 million, $90 million] or $100 million—I cant remember the number—to go and buy our rights. It was a deal we cut with [former Novell Inc. CEO] Ray Noorda before he retired. I said to Ray, "I need full rights to go out and compete against Microsoft [Corp.]." He was more rabid [against Microsoft] than anyone I knew out there. He made me look like a Microsoft lover. He granted us and only us those rights, and we had to pay dearly for them. It turned out it was pretty good return on investment.

But now you also offer Linux.

We offer Red Hat, and youll see us offering another alternative very shortly.

Would you consider buying the company SCO?

I dont know what I would buy there. Why buy what you already own? I thought I already paid for that sucker.

The Linux community led by Linus Torvalds says the whole SCO-Linux dispute is a tempest in a teapot, that any problems with Linux can be easily corrected.

That is what Napster [Inc.] said also, wasnt it?

How do you compare this to Napster and music sharing?

You know the RIAA [Recording Industry Association of America] went after the enablers and then the end users. Copyright matters. There is no free lunch here.

You [the Linux user] are taking on the copyright and intellectual property risk in exchange for lower cost. Now you may think that is worth it, but the second SCO comes at the end users, that risk might become more real. That does not mean that open source is not a great model; it is a great model. Weve been doing open source forever.

This week at the Computer Associates [International Inc.] users conference, Linus Torvalds said Unix is on the way out.

You can go back over 21 years, and weve been reading that exact quote about Unix. But in one sense, Linus is right. The operating system is going away; you dont write to the operating system anymore. You write to the Web services layer. You either write to [Microsofts] .Net, which only runs on Windows, or you write to the Java Web services architecture, which runs on anything.

What is the "HP Away" program you recently started?

There are two big transitions going on in the world. One is at HP going from PA [Hewlett-Packard Co.s PA-RISC processor] and HP-UX to Itanium and Windows. The other is from AIX to Linux and IBM. We think Solaris on SPARC and Solaris on x86 answers the migration fears, disruptions and challenges those transitions create very nicely. It gives the customer a comfort level. Everyone knows that at HP, the Alpha is gone, but the dirty little secret here is that PA is gone also.

It sounds like you are feeling pretty strong about the company right now.

Weve got a new desktop strategy that is real kick-ass. We have one of two developer communities left on the planet. We are changing the world with our quarterly product releases. Throughout the ups and downs and in and outs of the industry, there has never been a question about our integrity or character. I like our position and our strategy, and I think it will pay off. I think the puck is coming to where we are.

Is Sun delivering on its product promise? Check out eWEEKs review of the companys latest x86 server to see how they measure up.