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Stephen Shankland

Staff Writer, CNET

SAN FRANCISCO–Sun Microsystems Chief Executive Scott McNealy showed a photo during a Wednesday speech to illustrate how rapidly technology improves–but instead illustrated another computing phenomenon: how easy it is to fall for an Internet hoax.

At a keynote address here at the Oracle OpenWorld show, McNealy made fun of a picture supposedly from the magazine “Popular Mechanics” showing how people in 1954 envisioned the home computer. Alas, in reality it is a doctored photo of a nuclear submarine control room mock-up, according to the myth-debunking site


The black-and-white photo, which has circulated by e-mail and Web postings, shows a man in an Eisenhower-era suit standing before a long panel studded with dozens of gauges and a single steering wheel. A bulky monitor looms above, and a keyboard is placed in front.

According to Snopes, the original image is a U.S. Navy photograph taken of a Smithsonian exhibit. The modified version was submitted to an image modification contest.

Hoaxes are nothing new for the Internet. There have been bogus MP3 viruses, virus repairs and e-mail taxes.

McNealy might be a hornswoggled high-tech CEO, but he showed some rightly skeptical instincts. “Being from Detroit, I have to wonder: What is the steering wheel for?” he asked the audience of thousands at the show.

And his next point certainly made sense: “It’s hard to imagine where we’ll be 50 years from now,” he said.

McNealy shouldn’t feel too bad about his gaffe; he has good company. Lotus founder Mitch Kapor posted the same bogus photo to his blog in November, later noting his mistake.