Scott McNealy has kept a low profile since Oracle bought his company earlier this year, but on Wednesday the former chairman and CEO of Sun Microsystems shared some thoughts on the acquisition.
“Do I have a problem with Larry Ellison buying Sun? No, that’s part of capitalism — as soon as we go public we’re for sale, that’s part of the deal,” McNealy said during a speech in San Francisco, referring to Oracle’s chairman and CEO.
“And do I have a problem with him exercising his intellectual property rights? No, I don’t have a problem with that. Would it be how we necessarily ran and operated? Obviously not,” McNealy said.
He talked for about 40 minutes at the PostgreSQL open-source database conference and then took questions. He offered his usual deadpan humor mixed with some searing criticism of former rivals.
Sun was a company of “good capitalists,” McNealy said — implying virtuous as well as effective — while Ellison is a “great capitalist.” The end result is that “he’s there and I’m here,” meaning Ellison is still running Oracle and McNealy is without a job.
Asked about Oracle’s patent infringement lawsuit against Google over its use of Java in Android, McNealy said he finds it ironic that Oracle used to ask Sun to loosen its licensing terms for Java. But he said he’s also a “raging capitalist” and defended Oracle’s right to protect its intellectual property. “I’m giving Larry a little grief but there are copyright laws, there are patents, and I believe in patents,” McNealy said.
Asked about Java’s future under Oracle, he seems to have conflicting views about the virtue of open source and its effectiveness as a business model. “I believe in open and sharing,” McNealy said, but “Ellison may actually do it better with his model. It really depends how well he executes.”
Oracle may wind up investing more in Java than Sun did if it “wins a big bag of money off Google,” McNealy said. Oracle sued Google in August for alleged infringement of its Java-related patents; Google denies any wrongdoing.
“Sharing’s not Larry’s middle name,” McNealy said. But developers can always take the code for open-source projects and fork it into other projects, something he predicted will happen with both OpenSolaris and Java.
McNealy also laid into the proprietary software industry. Vendors reel customers in with low prices, then overcharge for maintenance and prevent them from switching providers by locking them in, he said.
“The purchase price of software is kind of like the first hit of heroin: It’s free,” he quipped.
But he no longer sounds sure the open-source route is better, at least from a business point of view.
“That’s why I’m here speaking to you with no salary,” he said.
McNealy is not completely unemployed these days. He does consulting for startups and is involved with a nonprofit called Curriki — an amalgam of “curriculum” and “Wikipedia” — that provides free books and other materials for schools.