Welcome to NosillaCast for May 23rd, 2005

I’m podcasting again from the Wall Street Journal sponsored D3:  All things Digital conference.  Today was a full day with Bill Gates, Scott McNeally, Ed Zander, Nicholas Negreponte, and Mitch Kapor.  I’ll try to keep this under 20 minutes and give just the highlights.

Bill Gates

If you listened to last night’s podcast, you know that poor Bill had to sit through Steve Jobs’ keynote, and have the cameras watching him while Steve made snyde remarks.  Today Bill was in good form.  He was interviewed by Walter Mossberg.

Walt had to start off asking about security.  Oddly Bill sees that the spam filters from MS are doing a good job at reducing spam – wasn’t clear to me what filters he was referring to – maybe in Exchange?  He said viruses are down in the last year (has he been counting?) and then put in a caveat on viruses in terms of the damage it has done to people.  He must not count the damage to industry (and home life for that matter) of the money and time wasted doing patch management and virus updates and cleaning.  He said that if you have kept your OS up to date with the automatic updates, you shouldn’t have gotten any viruses.

He said that malware (his term for spyware and adware) is up, but their acquisition of Giant and subsequently giving away the malware scanner software for free has helped to keep these problems off of computers.

He talked about a new way to protect customers from malicious code, which he called reputation-based downloads. The idea is that when you download a piece of software, you’ll be asked later how it went for you, and you give a rating to say whether it was good software or bad.  He says that a surprising number of people respond to these mini surveys, and that it will be a way of knowing right before you download whether this s/w causes problems.  They think this will be more effective than putting the “are you sure” button there that we all instinctively push, AND more effective than Apple’s requirement to enter the administrator password.  I think he missed the point there though – with the requirement for a password you eliminate the installation of software without your knowledge.  The reputation based model still might be interesting to watch.

Walter said that so many people have to get their hard drives reformatted – even if they have firewalls, antivirus programs and your malware program – and now we have all these warnings jumping up alerting us  - when can we just sit down and work at the computer and not worry about it?  Bill says that if you opt in to the malware program and automatically install windows updates it IS silent.  Hmmmm.  He said that they will be getting into the Anti-Virus business, and since industry has set a precendent for charging for AV, they will too.  This triggered an angry question from the audience later on – asking why after causing billions of dollars in damage to customers, they can stand to profit from security software!  He defended his position by pointing out that they don’t charge for malware protection or search.

Walt asked if there’s a divergence between when corporations and individuals want upgrades to the OS (such as closer together than 5 years.)  Bill said that everyone wants the small updates, but any changes to the user interface must come with dramatic changes to the scope of the tools, graphics, or power to understand documents if large corporations are going to change.

Bill talked about the tablet quite a bit – he believes that it’s the great new thing – that there are rabid users in healthcare and places like that.  He says the use of One Note has dramatically increased his productivity.

Bill demo’d desktop search, and it looked surprisingly like spotlight in Mac OSX Tiger, except maybe even better.  The panes of information were the same, but where Tiger only does previews of jpegs, MS’s product shows previews of powerpoint slides – you could even click thru the slides as tho you were in PP.

He also demonstrated their web search service, called “Start”.  It looked pretty good – the attraction is that you start with a blank page (instead of ready made content like Yahoo) and the you add the content which interests you, he showed adding weather, stock quotes, podcasts.  The funny thing was that he kept referring to it as the dashboard – which is the name for OSX Tiger’s widgets.

Finally he showed off their mapping site, which wasn’t that good, looked a little worse than Yahoo and nowhere near as good as Google, but then he showed something cool.  He brought up an address (Walter Mossberg’s HOME address, by the way, including his home phone number) and then he showed the satellite view as many services show, but then he showed a hybrid view, which shows street names and lines on top of the satellite view – it was pretty nice.  Then he explained that they bought a company called Pictometry who has been flying around with cameras at 45 degrees photographing the country, so soon you’ll be able to see Walter’s house not from the rooftop view but from the side as well.  

Scott McNeally – CEO of Sun Microsystems

As soon as Scott sat down, Kara Swisher showed videos of the other CEOs from last year talking about Sun – like Larry Ellison of Oracle, and most notably Carly Fiorina of HP talking about how Scott just doesn’t get it – of course ironic as Carly was fired from HP and Scott is still hanging on.

Scott says that he looks at Dell as an Auto-Zone, where HP is more of a car dealer.  Neither one of them make their own components or middleware.  He used a lot of car analogies throughout his pitch.

Scott talked extensively about the fact that Sun has $7.5B in cash in the bank (partly thanks to the $2B from MS.)  He talked about the fact that Friday the 13th of May, Sun and MS announced several collaboration efforts.  The ones I could follow were single sign on – a way to bring together both ldap and active directory environments together with Java.  They also certified all of their X86 machines on Windows.  He talked a lot about their acquisition of Tarantella, which will make it easier for their Sunray thin clients to serve up Windows applications using licensed RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol).  Clearly we need to learn more about this.

Kara asked how friendly MS and Sun are now.  Scott said that the agreements are all around interoperability.  He said they’re not friends, but they’re not biting each other’s ears off when wrestling.  

Kara mentioned how the stock price is languishing, and Scott pointed out that they have 16 years straight of cash flow positive years (and mentioned again that they have $7.5B in cash in the bank.

He then talked about how every CIO who didn’t get a job at a computer company has built themselves a data center, and they’re all home made jalopies.  (see the car reference again?)  He said he’s never seen 2 data centers alike.  He said buying a Dell Server is to providing web services as buying a piston ring is to transportation.   He asked “if I brought you 262 parts to build an SUV and dropped them on the floor for only $250, would that be a good idea?”

He said that one of their businesses is “multi-tenant processing grid”.  This is where they sell cpu cycles for running Monte Carlo analysis or oil exploration software – running on opterons and Sparcs running Red Hat and Solaris.  They’re selling these cycles for a buck per cpu hour.  He said that IBM’s pension costs alone are more than a dollar an hour so they can’t compete with Sun.  He looks at it like unused airplane seats – if he doesn’t sell them, they go away, can’t store them.  He says he treats their grid as WIP, or work in process, because “we have the shelf life of a banana here!”

Scott then talked about their new Niagra chip – it’s the next generation past the risc architecture, which has chip multi-threading.  It has 8 cores, and 4 hardware cores per thread.  It has the bandwidth of an E15K, with networking built in, full symmetric multiprocessing on a chip.  He’s really interested in bringing down the total cost of ownership – he pointed out that it’s a 32 way, 64 bit core, at less than 56 watts.  He pointed out that Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google has his single biggest expense is energy costs, second is floor space so this should be attractive.

He brought up another grid – this one he calls the Display Grid, which is his term for the Sunray thin clients.  He asked “wouldn’t it be great to have a buck a display per day for all desktop services?”  He said that over half of his employees are homeless – they can walk into any office and work, so he saves $3M a year by not having a Wintel space heater for each one of them..  They used two system administrators and $65K in software to move 30,000 people to a new software upgrade over the weekend, and no one needed to know.  

Nicholas Negroponte

Nicholas is the chairman of the Media Lab and Professor of Media Technology.  He is dedicating his efforts to finding a way to get laptops into the hands of children in developing companies.  His strategy is that if he could build a laptop for $100 each, he could get them into the hands of millions of children by 2007.

He has worked with school children in Cost Rica, where there isn’t even electricity.  He said the teachers try to do well, but they only have 6 or 7 years of education themselves.  He brought in satellite dishes and generators, and laptops he bought off of eBay, gave one to every single child and let them take them home.  The families loved them because they were the brightest light in the house!  The kids took wonderful care of them, polishing them like bicycles, making little bags for them.  They found on their own a website that would speak English words to them so they could learn to speak the language.  This was much better than when the teacher tried to do it – Nicholas said that it was unintelligible, bore no resemblance to English.

The technology path for this has 3 generations.  Generation 3 is going to use media ink.  This is a method of actually printing on the screen, which has extremely high contrast so it’s very clear, and can be done on a flexible non-breakable screen – maybe even one you could roll up in your pocket.  They can make these screens around $0.50/square inch, when LCDs cost $10/diagonal inch.

2nd generation will be a laptop that when opened reveals a small LED projector – and then the screen could even be made of white cardboard.  The LEDs have low energy requirements, and you could even make the laptop go all the way open flat so the projector pointed at a wall.

The 1st generation is actually harder, they’re looking at using something like the 7.2” DVD players you can buy now for around $110, gutting them taking out the optical drive, put in a processor and a keyboard.  They’ll put in wifi, 4 usb ports, a 500MHz processor, 1GB of flash memory (no disk) 128MB of RAM and run linux.  He said the developing world doesn’t want to talk about any OS other than linux.  The kids want Logo, Google and Skype, no kind of office application at all.

Ed Zander – CEO of Motorola

I didn’t take a lot of notes on Ed, but he did “accidentally” show us the Motorola iTunes phone.  It was white, and he said it had an iTunes interface, and killer sound.  He even treated us to a Neal Diamond song by holding it up to his microphone.  He emphasized sound in all of their phones, showing off the Razr as well as an even thinner phone (not a flip phone) called the Sliver which is 12mm thick with a speaker and a camera.  He also showed off full motion video of CNN on a cell phone available now through Verizon.

That’s it for today’s NosillaCast – thanks for tuning in.  Not sure if I’ll podcast tomorrow, the content looks a little light, but you never know!