BUSINESSWEEK ONLINE : SEPTEMBER 27, 1999 ISSUE
COVER STORY -- E.BIZ -- THE E.BIZ 25

William Joy


WILLIAM JOY

SUN MICROSYSTEMS

Position: Co-founder and chief scientist

Contribution: Co-founder and chief scientist

Ambition: Create technology that lets computers talk to each other--leaving humans to do much more interesting things.

The technology world's going pretty much according to Bill--but not the Bill you think. While Microsoft Corp.'s (MSFT) William H. Gates III must worry about an antitrust suit and the threat of a post-PC era, the ideas of Bill Joy, Sun Microsystems Inc.'s (SUNW) chief technology officer, couldn't be more in vogue.

For 20 years, the bushy-haired Joy, 44, has been the Merlin of the computer industry--peering out 10 years and foreseeing a whole new way of computing. His vision: that computers need to be much simpler to use, and information should be readily available everywhere via the Net on a range of appliances. Now, thanks in good part to Joy's prodding and Sun's Java technology, that vision is becoming reality. Joy's ideas are laying the foundation for making e-business ubiquitous.

His latest musings are just as audacious. Joy foresees a world where tiny computers that are embedded in all sorts of devices talk directly to other computers, without need of human intervention. Why, for example, couldn't power plants negotiate with each other to adjust real-time to minimize pollution? ''The big emerging trend is finding ways to get computers to reliably work together--and it's much harder to do than people think,'' says Joy. ''It's going to take many years.''

Joy seems likely to enjoy the long journey. He works with a team of four in Aspen, Colo., close to the ski slopes and far from the daily grind at Sun's Silicon Valley headquarters. To peer into the future, he endlessly scours books on everything from economics to architecture, looking for any hints on how the Net will develop. Lately, he has been studying groupthink in ant colonies. ''Bill's often so far outside of the box that he's not aware there is a box,'' says Java creator James Gosling. Well, why not? It has worked so far.

By Peter Burrows

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[empire builders]
Jeffrey P. Bezos
AMAZON.COM INC.

Stephen M. Case
AMERICA ONLINE INC.

Timothy A. Koogle
YAHOO! INC.

[the innovators]
Louis H. Borders
WEBVAN GROUP INC.

Jay S. Walker
PRICELINE.COM

Margaret C. Whitman
EBAY INC.

Glen Meakem
FREE MARKETS ONLINE INC.

James H. Clark
MYCFO INC.

Christos M. Cotsakos
E*TRADE GROUP INC.

[bankrollers]
Masayoshi Son
SOFTBANK CORP., JAPAN

Robert C. Kagle
BENCHMARK CAPITAL

Lawton W. Fitt
GOLDMAN SACHS & CO.

L. John Doerr
KLEINER PERKINS CAUFIELD & BYERS  

Bernard Arnault
LVMH MOET HENNESSY
LOUIS VUITTON  

[the visionaries]
Mary G. Meeker
MORGAN STANLEY DEAN WITTER

John Hagel III
MCKINSEY & CO.

William Joy
SUN MICROSYSTEMS

[the architects]
Louis V. Gerstner Jr.
IBM CORP.

Pehong Chen
BROADVISION INC.

David C. Peterschmidt
INKTOMI INC.

Kevin J. O'Connor
DOUBLECLICK

Ellen M. Hancock
EXODUS COMMUNICATIONS

[the pace setters]
David S. Pottruck
CHARLES SCHWAB CORP.

John T. Chambers
CISCO SYSTEMS

Michael S. Dell
DELL COMPUTER



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