Speaking Out: Sun Microsystems' Scott McNealy and Bill Joy

Scott, can Silicon Valley rebound with the rest of tech?

Talking about the future of Silicon Valley isn't really my gig. I'm too busy talking to customers about creating new technology to help engineer complexity out of systems. But think about it, that is what Silicon Valley is all about -- pure innovation, not bound by geography. The only barriers are the ones we create. So it's time to stop talking and start doing. Time to start engineering to address the mammoth systems that have taken over our part of the universe.

What systems are you referring to?

Our belief is that everything gets connected to the network. That creates a massively complex problem, and our whole deal is about solving complex networking problems. That creates a $2 billion R&D challenge for us.

Is this the overarching challenge facing tech?

Here's my belief: Our industry spends all of its time buying best-of-breed, state-of-the-art, little tiny components, as opposed to buying the car or the airplane. So we go out and buy the landing gear, the avionics, the wing flaps, the tail rudders, each from a different vendor. And then we hire an army of people to try to build a custom airplane. If you look around our industry, no two airplanes are alike. It is unbelievably screwed up. What we're trying to do is engineer that problem away.

Bill, at Davos recently, you asked: "What if people have already bought all they need?" That doesn't bode well for tech.

Who do you know who doesn't already have a DVD player? My point was, is there enough stuff? Many of the people with disposable income may have more than they can take care of. And there is not much out there to inspire you to buy.

So where will the industry's growth come from?

The real growth area is in the different kinds of devices we focused on a decade ago with Java: mobile devices, cellular phones, wireless devices.

What do you think of the advanced research coming out of universities today?

Frankly, for the past 20 years, the universities have not been as far ahead as I would have liked. What they are doing is barely research. There were years where Bell Labs and Xerox were doing the innovative stuff. And once that stuff got commercialized, the universities weren't doing stuff that was as radical as it should have been. It's a little ossified.

Can private sector investment make up the difference?

The IT sector is large enough that the R&D going on there can make up much of the difference in applied technologies. But for some work -- like breaking the physical laws, like quantum computing work that has no foreseeable payoff -- you need a long-term project for that. That needs to come out of research institutions. It's not as likely to come out of industry research.

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