Ed Zander has been chief operating officer of Sun Microsystems since January this year. His boss, Sun's chief executive Scott McNealy, is brash and outspoken - he and Oracle Systems' head Larry Ellison share the title of chief 'anti-Bill' for their constant and colourful rhetoric against the alleged threat posed by Microsoft and Mr Gates. Which may help to explain why Mr Zander, while also not one to pull his punches, is little-known outside of Silicon Valley - and why eyebrows were raised last year when he topped a list of leading candidates to become chief executive of Apple Computer. Mr Zander then headed Sun's computer systems division, which includes servers and workstations and brings in more the 60 per cent of revenues and 70 per cent of profits. Under Mr Zander, Sun - previously known only as a maker of workstations - went from 'nowhere in the Unix server market three years ago' to leading it. Sun shipped more Unix servers last quarter than any other vendor, including Hewlett-Packard and IBM, according to IDC. Mr Zander's main connection to Apple is an intriguing bit of Valley gossip. While head of marketing in the mid-1980s for workstation maker Apollo Computer, Mr Zander almost negotiated a deal to license the Macintosh operating system for Apollo to put on to its workstations, which Apple turned down at the last minute. In this case, Mr Zander reportedly turned Apple down, leaving Steve Jobs to continue as the longest-running 'temporary' chief executive in the history of the computer business. As if in reward, the position of chief operating officer at Sun was created for him, which Mr Zander assumed in January. He holds the job at a time when, according to him, revolutionary new technologies - what he calls 'technology dislocators' - are threatening to make whole markets extinct and create new ones. Primarily, Mr Zander means Java, Sun's revolutionary computer language that some say could be a Windows-killer, but he also means Jini, a technology which Sun hopes will make hooking up Java-powered consumer devices such as phones, kitchen appliances and televisions to the Internet as easy as plugging in an electrical cord. Both promote Sun's anti-personal computer strategy, summed up in its catchphrase 'the network is the computer'. At the same time, Mr Zander acknowledges that Merced, Intel's as yet unreleased 64-bit processor, is another technology dislocator that looms as the biggest threat to Sun's basic business of selling Unix hardware to corporations. 'Merced, if it comes out, will be the first chance to get scalable servers and some interesting business applications to be deployed on scalable server platforms,' he said. Analysts say Merced could render obsolete the Risc chips - including Sun's Ultrasparc processor - upon which the various flavours of Unix run on. Indeed, the threat of Merced's arrival in late 2000 already is causing the Unix market to consolidate. It may surprise some, then, that Sun already has launched a version of its Solaris operating system for Intel's Xeon processor, and announced that it will port Solaris over to Merced. Sleeping with the enemy? That is not the way Mr Zander sees it. Porting Solaris on to Intel may cannibalise Sun's Unix hardware sales. Mr Zander insists, however, that the possible benefit - the widespread adoption of Solaris over Windows NT as the operating system of choice for the Merced - is more important. Fujitsu, NCR and Siemens-Nixdorf are among the vendors who have abandoned their own Unix platforms to license Solaris, convinced, Mr Zander says, partly because it will run on Merced. 'It's going to be years before you see [Windows NT] get mission-critical,' he said. Windows NT 5.0, which has been delayed from a mid-98 to a mid-99 release, reportedly has more than 33 million lines of code, almost half of it all-new, according to Mr Zander. Meanwhile, the 64-bit version of Solaris due to be released this year, has only 14 million lines of code, almost all of it already in use, Mr Zander says. 'This thing has been aged like a fine wine.' Supporting Merced does not mean Sun is abandoning Sparc, Mr Zander says. 'Cheetah', its 600 MHz Ultrasparc 3 processor, will come out by the end of this year. 'Millennium', an Ultrasparc chip running at 1.5 GHz, is on target for launch by 2002. Mr Zander argues that there are only two viable high-end processors for the future - UltraSparc and Merced. The other Risc-based Unix platforms are not long-term threats. 'MIPS [Silicon Graphics] has had it. Precision Architecture - HP has said they are going for Merced. PowerPC is not going to happen - Apple is just keeping it alive for the desktop. Alpha is not going anywhere, though Compaq is going to try to revive it.' That is brash talk, considering that Digital (now Compaq), IBM and HP all have faster Unix servers on the market than Sun, according to Australian technology consultancy Ideas International. Mr Zander also is helping Sun settle into its role of Java evangelist and steward of the standard. 'We are not here to talk about workstations, we are here to talk about a new way of doing computing that is fundamentally better.' Some have criticised Sun's dual role, suspicious that Sun may try to steer the development of Java to promote its own software sales. There is big money at stake. While Java-related revenues so have far been slim, Sun has licensed the technology to 140 companies for use in smart cards, mobile phones and television set-top boxes. Sun could make up to $340 million in royalties in the next three years from mobile phones alone, according to investment bank Salomon Smith Barney. Some Sun executives have gone so far as to proclaim that Sun is turning into a software company. That sort of hyperbole caused partner-rival HP to rebel earlier this year, when it declared it would develop and license its own form of Java for consumer devices. Mr Zander says the criticism is 'fair . . . We are a going business concern who have to show returns to our shareholders, yet we're trying to spearhead this major discontinuity in our industry'. The key, he says, will be the success of the corporate reorganisation in April in which, among other moves, he separated software into two divisions. The Javasoft division only licenses Java to customers, while Sunsoft now oversees all of Sun's other software efforts, including licensing of Solaris, middleware and Java applications. 'There is always going to be a little friction. You just have to manage it.' Mr Zander also plans to continue to spend about $1 billion a year - about 10 per cent of its revenues - to keep Sun on the technology cutting edge. 'You have got to fund even the R that never becomes D,' he said. Previous experiences taught him that. In the late 1970s, he was a marketing director at Data General, nowadays mostly a maker of corporate storage products, but back then, a top manufacturer of minicomputers. Mr Zander helped launch the Eclipse MV/8000, which when introduced in 1980, was one of the fastest machines of its kind. The behind-the-scenes development of the Eclipse was chronicled in the 1982 Pulitzer prize-winning bestseller, The Soul of a New Machine, by Tracy Kidder. Later, he joined Apollo Computer, as its vice-president of marketing. Like Data General, which introduced its 32-bit Eclipse too late against the more successful VAX minicomputer from Digital, Apollo lost its early lead to a bunch of upstarts from Stanford University called Sun Microsystems. 'You have got to make sure you are thinking out five years ahead,' he said. Providing corporate services is not part of that thinking, although Sun made $1.26 billion from its SunService division last year. 'We don't want to become a global services company by any stretch of the imagination,' Mr Zander said. 'We are a products company.' Mr Zander says Sun's determination to bring about this revolution from personal to network computing is its key differentiator. 'What really drives Scott [McNealy] and some of us at Sun is this courage to stay the course and be focused,' he said.