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A Java-based network.

Janpieter Scheerder of SunSoft talks about the most exciting thing going in software. Hint: It's not Java.

As president of the Sun Microsystems subsidiary SunSoft, in charge of operating systems and implementation of the Java toolset, Janpieter Scheerder is expected to toss out anti-Microsoft zingers like "Windows is dead, in my opinion"--and he does.

You would also expect him to tout the advantages of Java, and he does that, too. But you would not expect him to say "Java is not the most exciting thing going on in software," which he does.

Scheerder, whose self-effacing geniality doesn't prevent him from delivering the sly aside, assures you that he's just not that smart about some things, but "one should know one's limitations." A few seconds later: "Bill Gates has no limitations." (Drum riff, please.)

In fact, Scheerder has in his care a set of software technologies that has gained astonishingly swift and wide acceptance. They are technologies that offer a way of using the network wire that is fundamentally different from the vision of Microsoft and Intel. A significant portion of the networking world is aligning itself with Java as a way of dealing with 32-bit operating systems within networks.

What, then, is the most exciting thing going in software? "I think the real revolution going on here is that anybody now feels they can get any information, and they have the conviction that this is not hard," Scheerder says. That has been made possible by the Web browser.

It means that anybody--"and when I say anybody, I mean anybody"--can feel comfortable about using a computer network. The desktop is no longer just the desktop, but the viewport to information on the network.

"Current computer users--which we would deem mainframe guys, mini guys, but more importantly (in terms of volume) PC users--are probably not representative of people who will use network. They will use the network, but it will be a subset of the much bigger community that says: 'I don't want to do computing, I just want to find out information and get information.'"

This sounds suspiciously like Bill Gates' "Information at your fingertips" theme. But getting there, in Sun's view, is a far different road ahead than Microsoft's. Scheerder thinks that a universally usable and comprehensible international network will have to use Java.

"Java levels the playing field," Scheerder says. "It makes sure that everything plays everywhere, that it gets done securely and that there is a method for invoking programs without you [the user] having to do the loading and the upgrading of the programs. Because nobody upgrades the telephone set to make a new utility work. PC users have a hard time understanding this, or even wanting this."

No big deal, Scheerder says: "They are not necessarily the most important decision makers around this."

In many ways, network managers are closer to this understanding than most, since it is IT's job to serve the ultimate user at the desktop. In that sense, Scheerder says, Sun and the network manager are serving the same user: "regular people who never wanted to do computers in the first place, they just want to do their jobs."

That user, he says, will control the network and therefore the way the network will grow.

"The big thing we're working on with Java Workshop is to allow everybody to become an information provider--an information manipulator, if you want--on the network, without having to be a programmer." The metaphor is the browser, which everyone now understands and which has become the way even PC users think of looking for information."

The burden of computing then shifts to the network, which will provide the applets to your desktop, which will be a standard appliance that you won't have to carry around with you. Scheerder's favorite example is the telephone on the plane: "Why wouldn't they in future just have a viewport in the network, so to speak. They provide you with the Web tone on the plane and you connect from there. You can do your mail anywhere, and the mail lives in the network."

"Web tone," the network equivalent of dial tone, means that any device would have to attach to the public data network. In order for that to work, says Scheerder, "We have to supply computing power through the 'Net, or information power through the 'Net, very analogous to the way utilities provide you power.

"What that means is you've got to do security, you've got to always be there, an ISP cannot just say 'not today, please, I'm busy or I'm reconfiguring my site'--that's not the user's problem. "

As the Internet becomes more important, Scheerder says, we will be doing network computing--and that means the network computer. One great worry for the network manager is whether sending that much from a central server to the desktop will burden and slow down the wire. Scheerder thinks that depends on whether the implementation is done right. You should be clever sending the bits over the wire.

"Today's Web pages without Java are actually kind of stupid," he says, "because every time you do something, you update the whole page. There are a lot of bits to send over. Wouldn't it be better if you sent a page over with a Java apples that only manipulated the fields that were changing?"

Leaving it all on the front end leaves too much for the user, "and people don't want to do it. It is much easier to let somebody else take care of the whole thing." So the problem isn't bandwidth, in his view.

"To do good network computing, you need three things: You need an operating environment that stays up; you need the management tools to manage this whole environment efficiently and to hide the complexity in the network so you bring ease of use to the front; and you need the tools to access information in the network without being burdened by the complexity of the network."

In order to do all this, Scheerder says, everything must be based on standards.

"Nobody can have their own private Web tone, when certain tones only work on certain networks. Now it's like the old days of the railroads when they had different widths of the rail track." Scheerder points to the history of Sun, which has based its business on the Unix standard for 15 years.

"I think that a sure sign of a business maturing is standards getting hold of everybody. I think this is even what even Microsoft is doing--although complaining and whining all the way."

Standards may fly in the face of the way the high-technology business has always grown--through innovation. Scheerder says that's the nature of hightech people, but "Our view is you can never build something complex that is also easy to use and has the utility that the Web tone has to it unless you have standards. You can't produce quality unless you have standards. And if you go back to what a Web tone has to deliver, which is availability, you can't do it without standards."

In the Sun universe, and more and more for everyone else, Java provides the standardization that helps. The standards are open, and Scheerder says the company is working to make the network that results easier to manage.

"What we have to do is provide network managers with the tools and the software necessary to manage these complex networks--they're being pushed very hard," he says.

Whether it's the Internet or Windows or Novell or IBM, "we're working with lots and lots of people to standardize on the look and feel and the APIs of the network interface, which will make life a lot easier for the network manager.

"Whether it's IP network or TCP/IP network shouldn't be bothering you. The decision whether somebody has access to certain resources is yours. We realize that, and I think we're spending a lot of money and time working on that."

Scheerder invites readers to contact him with what they would like to see: "We're willing to sit down with them, and talk with them, or receive their e-mail." (

The objective of his group, Scheerder says, is to make sure that the heterogeneous network environment can be managed with one set of tools. Large hardware manufacturers are licensing Java APIs "so that we can manage routers from Bay Networks and Cisco and on and on and on from a central Java panel."

Eventually, Scheerder would like to see the same kind of transparency to the user in data as in the voice network. "The most interesting meetings that I attend are meetings where we are trying to learn from the telco people how they run their business.

"How they deliver this continuous availability, how they run their quality practices and on and on and on. This is a lot to learn for us. And then, the telcos learning how we do computing, information processing and operating systems. Because these worlds are merging, there's no doubt about it. If you want to merge without war you have to have a lot of understanding of the other party."

It's all information, he says.

"I think people had better start considering the whole aspect of information, whether it's voice, data, information, whatever, and treat it all as one big pie."

RELATED ARTICLE: Meet Janpieter Scheerder

An electrical engineer from Holland, Scheerder spent 15 years with Data General in engineering, sales, and marketing positions before becoming vice president of Aviion System Engineering. As president of SunSoft, he is responsible for the development, engineering, marketing, and sales of SunSoft's software products.

Scheerder characterizes himself as a family man whose two young daughters are "my buddies." He has a passion for photography, because "I was always jealous of people who could paint." A huge photograph of his family dominates his office, combining his two great interests.
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Title Annotation:Company Business and Marketing; SunSoft Pres Janpieter Scheerder
Author:Hotch, Ripley
Publication:Communications News
Date:Jul 1, 1997
Previous Article:Connecting users in the outer network.
Next Article:Call centers in cyberspace.

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