Joy ponders software, decline of print media

Sun co-founder Bill Joy also touts green energy initiatives

Bill Joy, the co-founder of Sun Microsystems and author of Berkeley Unix, predicted the decline of the print newspaper, lamented the state of software development, and pondered the futures for green energy and the environment during an appearance Wednesday night in Silicon Valley.

Joy, speaking at a Churchill Club business and technology event in Santa Clara, Calif., offered a variety of observations on a host of topics ranging from how the Internet is changing the landscape in publishing to expressing a need for better agricultural practices to conserve water.

[ Joy and the other Sun co-founders reunited for a Computer History Museum forum in 2006. ]

Acknowledging the impact of Internet-based information sources on print media, Joy said it seems inevitable that newspapers will no longer be printed on paper.

"I don't think there's any chance that papers will for any length of time be printed on paper the way they are," said Joy, who is now a partner in the Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers venture capital firm. Even his hometown newspaper in Detroit is essentially Web-only, Joy said. He suggested a business model where readers volunteer to pay a penny per page for publications, or newspaper companies could become nonprofits to get basic news out.

"If people [reading news] online aren’t willing to pay for quality, how do you get it back? I don't know," Joy said.

The Web, meanwhile, did create a disruptive situation at a time when software innovation had declined, a circumstance attributed to Microsoft's dominance.

"What the Web did was disrupt [the situation] and it allowed almost anybody to create an experience and a Web site," said Joy.

He also cited Apple's iPhone as a disruptive technology that has garnered thousands of applications in less than a year. "There's an unleashing of creativity there," Joy said. But the iPhone is limited by battery life and the number of people who have one, he said.

As for Sun, Joy said he has not really followed the company since leaving early in the decade. But at the time he was there, the company was working on energy-efficient microprocessors, an effort Joy still encourages. The percentage of power going to datacenters is staggering and Sun seems to have a lead in energy-efficient technology research, he said.

"I hope they take advantage of some of that technology to reduce the amount of electricity that these cloud computing farms use, because the amount of CO2 we're belching out while we're doing our Google searches and everything is quite substantial," Joy said.

Joy expressed disappointment that software still has bugs. Code is written that is unreliable, he said. There been have been ventures to build robust, secure, reliable software, "but nobody seems to buy it," Joy said.

Emphasizing the need for so-called clean, renewable energy sources, Joy noted that the crashing price of oil can stifle development of these sources. "It can wipe out a whole generation of startups trying to bring us renewable fuels," he said. The government, Joy said, could set a standard in which a percentage of the nation's fuels must come from renewable energy, Joy said.

Joy also suggested that farmers change practices to stretch the water supply, and he encouraged innovation in the water resource realm.

"Water is an incredibly important problem," Joy said. "[It is] difficult to find the Googles, Netscapes, and Amazons of water. I have trouble finding them."