While the Microsoft big guns of chief executive Bill Gates and president Steve Ballmer preached the gospel according to Windows 2000 to resellers at the Comdex trade show, others questioned whether there should be a software industry at all. As 250,000 delegates from the IT industry poured into Sin City to see, touch and feel products at the computer-fest, Scott McNealy, chief executive of Sun Microsystems, told his keynote audience: "Comdex should not exist at all." Although his speech was tongue-in-cheek and littered with jokes, predominantly at the expense of arch rival Microsoft, his network-centric message was hammered home with more authority than in previous years. The growth and importance of the Internet for e-commerce, collaboration and communication has validated Sun's vision of the network being at the centre of computing, despite previous derision from the client/server camp. Sun demonstrated its Sun Ray product, which uses a smart card that allows multiple users to access their personal data and applications from the server to any configured machine (see review, page 44). McNealy said Sun was replacing a large number of workstations with Sun Ray machines. Citing research from partner AOL, Sun claimed PCs in the home were rarely used and often were simply email tools. McNealy said a raft of devices and not just the PC would need to connect to the Web in future. Because businesses are moving away from bricks and mortar to Internet-based companies, computing devices do not need to be tied into any proprietary operating systems or mainframes and only needed a Java enabled browser to access products and services on the Web, according to McNealy. "If you are going to use an Intel-based system, use Linux, Solaris and a Java browser such as Netscape Communicator, and it won't cost you a penny," McNealy suggested. Sun emphasises its point Sun gave away free copies of its integrated office software suite, Star Office, a competitor to Microsoft's Office 2000, at the show. It is also free to download. Linked to a portal site, Star Office's complexity is concentrated at the server. However, it remains fully compatible with Microsoft Office, which is complex at the client. He also said businesses should switch from internal email systems to free, hosted ones because they would get better reliability. Quashing security fears about allowing a service provider or reseller to manage data, such as corporate email, McNealy claimed it was like worrying about putting money in a bank. Although his words must have sent shivers down the backs of resellers that have gleaned profit from software, McNealy suggested that software applications of the future should be written to deliver services, not to sell products. Quipping that the past 20 years of Comdex have been about operating systems and OS companies, McNealy asked why people put up with buying front-end operating systems. "When you buy a digital camera, you don't say, 'that is great, where can I buy an operating system?'" He also said $1.1bn per month of venture capital was being invested in Internet technology and services start-ups rather than in OS or software applications. "Do you realise that, of the top 10 PC applications, five of them are always applications that undo or fix what you did with the first five?" But McNealy bemoaned the companies that were unwilling to change client/server models through fears of retraining and related issues and said Windows 2000 and Office 2000 - "W2K and O2K" - would be a bigger threat to businesses than the Y2K problem. Earlier at Comdex, Ballmer eulogised why Windows 2000 was continuing to receive "momentum and energy on the desktop". Admitting Microsoft had not paid enough attention to getting its message out about the importance of the NT successor, Ballmer claimed it had spent $162m on people and tools to make Windows stable, manageable and scalable. Microsoft also said it has earmarked $40m to train 50,000 partners to implement Windows 2000 for users. Phone support, Web-based access and training kits are part of the package. Promoting "reliability you can count on", Ballmer claimed Unisys has been using a late build of Windows 2000 and had only one failure in a lengthy trial period. This was down to a bad device driver, according to Ballmer. Offering four reasons why Windows should be on the desktop of businesses, Ballmer said Windows 2000 would be a good step towards Web-based services. The Microsoft chief said the design goals for Windows on the desktop would be Internet readiness, reliability, manageability and to provide support for the latest add-on devices. Plug-and-play support for devices, synchronisation and offline support will also be included. Ballmer also promised better laptop and infrared support. He declared that Microsoft's Windows 2000 operating system was still on course for its February 17 launch date. Dwight Davis, service director at analyst Summit Strategies, said: "There are thousands of industry players and customers who have an interest in seeing the Windows 2000 OS achieve its full potential."
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