The Other Bill: Bill Joy, The Edison of The Internet

By Roland Piquepaille

After reading Microsoft's PR machine yesterday, let's look at the other Bill: Bill Joy. And to his itinerary in computing. In the last 25 years, he was the leading guy behind Berkeley Unix (BSD), the Sparc microprocessor, the Java programming language, the Jini networking technology and now JXTA (short for Juxtapose).

And I forgot something: he's still the Chief Scientist for Sun Microsystems. Wow! Impressive achievements.

Through this article, the Economist looks back at his career, his current projects, and even to his fears.

The article starts with this.

For a quarter of a century, Bill Joy -- the Edison of the Internet -- has envisaged a world in which countless devices are wired together. Now he is trying to turn that vision into a reality, but not without warning of the risks to society.

But the main subject of the story is Bill Joy's JXTA.

If Mr Joy were to have his way, the future of computing would rest on a mere 50,000 lines of computer code that make up his year-old initiative called JXTA (pronounced "Juxta"), which seeks to build standards and infrastructure for peer-to-peer computing. First announced in 2001, JXTA is the culmination of a decades-long effort to build and popularise the infrastructure for distributed computing. At stake, say proponents, is the complete rewiring of the Internet -- an undertaking that promises to unleash a whole new wave of software innovation that Sun hopes to ride successfully.

[Obviously, JXTA is not a Microsoft-like product. Here is what said Steve Ballmer yesterday about a *typical* software project: "Even a relatively simple software product today has millions of lines of code that provide many places for bugs to hide."]

Let's go back to JXTA.

With his colleague Mike Clary, Mr Joy secretly launched the project in 2000 as a way of organising software developers and establishing standards for peer-to-peer computing. All told, JXTA is based on six protocols that let peers (ie, individual computers) find one another and organise themselves into groups. Ultimately, it appears rather like an operating system for running a peer-to-peer network. Mr Joy likens it to the TCP/IP stack of software that he added to Unix in 1982 so that computers could connect to the Internet. And, as happened with BSD Unix, Mr Joy is determined to make his open-source JXTA the standard for peer-to-peer networking.

Finally, even with his formidable background, Bill Joy is puzzled by some consequences of technology on our future.

He fears that the speed of technological development may exceed humanity's moral and mental capacity to control it. He first fretted about this in an article for Wired entitled "Why the future doesn't need us". In particular, he wrote of the dangers of the "GNR (genetic nanotechnology robotics) revolution", saying that this putative technology could smother the human race into extinction. "This is a story that discovered me," Mr Joy admits. "I just happened to discover that what I saw as a problem no-one else seemed to be talking about."

Don't you find this kind of humility refreshing?

Source: The Economist Print Edition, September 19, 2002

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