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i-Technology Viewpoint: "Pessimism Leads to Weakness, Optimism to Power"
Optimism Can Often Be the Crucible of Inventiveness, of Game-Changing Innovation
By: Jeremy Geelan
Oct. 11, 2005 06:15 AM
As I write this editorial, I am waiting, like hundreds and thousands of people worldwide, to hear whether – and if so, how – Sun and Google are going to be teaming up to take on Microsoft in its holiest of holy markets, the desktop.
Could such an alliance have been dreamed of just one year ago? The answer, of course, is "Yes!" Nothing has prevented Sergey Brin and Larry Page from nipping from Mountain View to San Jose long ago and dreaming up an imaginative combination of Google's brand recognition and Sun's desire to liberate desktop apps from the desktop and shift them to the network.
However, there is something about the prevailing mood of Q4 of 2005, just begun, that seems to be supremely conducive to a new kind of corporate symbiosis in which companies don't merely just gobble each other up, Oracle-PeopleSoft style, but genuinely seek to create various technology wholes that are greater than the sum of the technology parts.
We have Microsoft and JBoss teaming up to improve interoperability between the two companies' respective platforms, which is the closest yet Redmond has come to supping with open source, even if it is still with a long spoon. And now we have Sun and Google cozying up to one another, not for a merger or for an acquisition, but for something much more interesting: a game-changing strategy.
"Game-changing" is what a disruptive company like Google does best, and Sun for its part isn't a slouch when it comes to innovation, especially not since the arrival of Jonathan Schwartz with his charismatic (and highly unusual) combination of socially responsible entrepreneurial flair, business school acumen, and technological savvy.
The great American philosopher William James, leader of the philosophical movement known as Pragmatism, once wrote that "Pessimism leads to weakness, optimism to power." Optimism, in turn, can often be the crucible of inventiveness, of game-changing innovation, and Schwartz is, in these terms, an optimist par excellence, as are Brin and Page. Scott McNealy probably was an optimist, and still has power, but many in the industry sense some kind of weakness, the kind of weakness that most likely proceeds from pessimism, the same kind of pessimism that argues that technology has plateaued because the NASDAQ "is never again going to reach 5000."
Technology has never been healthier, but it takes a certain salt-water injection of optimism to see it, amid the growing worries (understandable worries) about the short-term economic effects of IT offshoring and the recurring grumbling that it's harder to make $10 million these days. So what if it is; how does that mean that technology is a sucked orange?
When Sun and Google make whoopee together, it's a clear sign that there's plenty of life yet in the desktop space; the rise and rise of Linux and open source show that on the server side things are just as competitive as ever; and the unstoppable surge of thin client and embedded technologies continues apace. So really truly, the only people making the argument that there's some kind of a technology slowdown are looking at stock prices, not at emerging technologies themselves.
Foremost among all emerging developments is something called "Web 2.0" - in which the network itself is the platform, spanning all connected devices. This is the paradigm that Schwartz's Sun, mark my words, will bestride (though not necessarily dominate Microsoft-style) in the next 10 years, much more than McNealy's Sun has prevailed over Web 1.0 in the last 10.
As the old joke has it, it's difficult to make predictions, particularly about the future, but some predictions are easier to make than others. Mine is that Sun is about to rise. Anyone with an interest in Web 1.0 will surely want to stick around to see just how Web 2.0 is going to shape up. It may take a while, but there will be some amazing new success stories, continuing more in the new-business mode of eBay, Google, and Amazon rather than the old-business mode of Microsoft and IBM.
Can Sun reinvent itself and shift from the latter category to the former? I believe, under Jonathan Schwartz's eventual (I would add, inevitable) leadership, that it can. Optimism, as James reminded us, leads not just to a more healthful outlook on business and on life.
It also leads to power.
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