McNealy sees new ISP role in networked world

Sun Microsystems' chief executive officer, president and chairman Scott McNealy, yesterday said that companies should increasingly see service providers as key players in delivering mission-critical information via the Internet.

"To put it diplomatically, the most ridiculous way to get information is through a PC," McNealy told those gathered at Deutsche Telekom's international press colloquium in Frankfurt yesterday. The better way to get information is through Internet service providers (ISPs), he said, whether they be fixed or mobile telecommunications carriers, cable companies, or even utilities.

IT departments, he said, should hand over as many tasks as possible to service providers. He recommended, for example, that corporations shut down their own e-mail services and tell their employees to get their own free e-mail services. Companies like Infoseek, Excite and GTE offer free e-mail services, and they can do a better job of running that than any internal IT department, McNealy said.

In fact, he said, companies should get everything they can free over the Internet from service providers -- free news, free spread sheets, presentation graphics -- which negates the need for what he called a "four-way Pentium NT hairball", to do all those things.

In the future, people will stop buying PCs, he predicted, and "the rest of us should just buy services". ISPs will also design personalised Web sites for company employees, just as they do for consumers, McNealy said.

These growing demands will present ISPs with new challenges, such as making data networks as reliable as voice networks, he said.

To meet the challenge, ISPs have to keep services and content device-neutral, and base all services on IP (Internet protocol), McNealy said. Users should not have to use some version of Microsoft's Windows to view data or run services, he said. Instead, they should view and receive data through Java-based browsers.

The model for this vision is one in which simple, reliable appliances link users up to a network. Appropriate to the audience assembled, he pointed out the telephone as a great example of such a device. "You know how to boot up a telephone? You pick it up," he quipped, noting that PCs are "complicated, hard-to-use, unreliable and unsafe".

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