Gage-ing the networked future

Gage-ing the networked future

You don't interview John Gage. You pose an initial question, and then sit back and listen as he launches into a 20-minute discourse that answers that first question and every other one you planned to ask. Gage is chief science officer at Sun Microsystems, and in a world filled with bogus Internet visionaries, he is the real deal. Besides co-founding Sun, he is also founder of NetDay, a project to wire computers in US schools to the Internet. Gage sat down to discuss the Internet, Java and Jini with IDG's Chris Nerney (who managed to get in a few questions anyway).

IDG: I saw a report on an electronic billboard that the Government had reached an agreement to extend Network Solutions' (NSI) contract to run the Internet Domain Name System. Seeing Internet news in that way really underscored how quickly the Internet has become an integral part of our culture. Does this surprise you?

Gage: It's startling. Billboards, advertisements, T-shirts with Web addresses. In a two-year period, we've transformed the mechanisms of communication. It's an enormous shift.

What about the actual decision to extend NSI's contract?

The Government is conflicted. I think they're afraid. On the one hand, they desperately want to transition to private control. But some parts of the Government are worried it may not be orderly. They're not receiving the right signals from the industry because [industry players] are unclear about what they want, so as a result the conversations are complicated and with hidden agendas.

It will evolve. I don't worry about it too much. Someone will always attempt to seize commercial advantage.

Exactly how will Sun derive revenue from Java?

The value of Java for Sun is it gave Sun recognitiion, and the stock price went up. That was the immediate impact of it. Revenue from Java is negligible and will remain negligible. We'll build tools that will compete with everyone else. Microsoft has a good suite of tools for Java. Borland, Symantec, IBM - beautiful sets of tools. So we'll compete in that. That's not a large market.

The core reason Java is so important to Sun is it allows Jini. This allows Sun to extend what it does from the large machines that are the core of the infrastructures we use to run businesses, banks and trading floors, to the small devices that are embedded in automobiles, and that are embedded in appliances.

Will Sun the corporation benefit from this immediately? This is a difficult question because we are at the point today that we were in 1982 with the arrival of microprocessing.

I guarantee that if you asked someone in 1982 to write on a piece of paper who would be the major computer companies in 1987 or 1992, the list would have consisted of, with some variations, IBM, Digital, Sperry, Burroughs, Fujitsu, ICL - all the companies that existed then. Not one analyst or editor would have named Apple or Sun or Compaq or Microsoft or Novell. In 1998, the same thing's happening with the movement to distributed and embedded computing.

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