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Sun Microsystems

Sun Discovers Dumb Terminals 605

Yahoo has a story about how Sun is practicing a sort of floating workforce - many employees have no permanent desks, they just come in and log on to a dumb terminal, err, thin client. Besides being a sneaky way to encourage employees to arrive ever earlier at work, it probably is cheaper to run the business off a few large Sun servers - at least for Sun.
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Sun Discovers Dumb Terminals

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  • Real brilliant. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Chardish ( 529780 ) <[moc.liamg] [ta] [hsidrahc]> on Sunday June 02, 2002 @10:50PM (#3628720) Homepage
    Never mind the fact that employees like to have file cabinets, desk toys, and other stuff to keep them happy during the day, and organized and productive. Essentially what Sun has said in implementing this concept is "everything important about your job is on the computer, or small enough to be carried with you everywhere you go."

    • A story on NewsForge Secretaries use Linux, taxpayers save millions [] amost a year ago parallels this. I think the concept is a good idea, esp for those in the Bay area. My desk is nothing more than a junk pile anyway, I would be all for it.

      Plus, it makes the IT departments job SOOOOOO much easier.
    • Re:Real brilliant. (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Bios_Hakr ( 68586 ) <> on Sunday June 02, 2002 @11:16PM (#3628868)
      Think more along the lines of computer user. A worker can have his own desk, and his own thin client. If his thin client catches on fire, it takes like 5 minutes to restore it. If you need help on an application, just take your smartcard to your co-workers desk and ask him to look at it. Same for presentations.

      And from an admin point, I just finished patching 20 boxes for known security holes. Wouldn't it be great to just patch one server?

      I don't think the point of this tech it to get rid of your desk, just to get rid of the concept of "Bob's computer".
    • "Hotelling" (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Big Sean O ( 317186 ) on Sunday June 02, 2002 @11:21PM (#3628886)
      I've heard it called "hotelling". One implementation I heard about had a 'locker room' where you could store your personal effects. They got around having filing cabinets in each office by having a central bullpen for all the filing.

      Here's a similar story, slightly off-topic, but illustrative of a similar corporate mindthink.

      A few years back someone told me of how "Kal Kan", the american dog-food company, operates. The entire headquarters is run out of a large open space similar in size to a high-school gymnasium. There are no cubes and no offices. Desks were arranged class room style, in neat rows. Everyone, from the president on down, worked from identical desks and identical chairs. Everyone had a single 2 drawer filing cabinet in their desk. At night, the cleaners were instructed to throw away anything that was left on top of the desk. Fax machines, copiers, water coolers, and conference rooms were along the outside walls. Apparently everyone respected everyone's privacy and kept their voices down.

      There is a certain comfort knowing that everyone at work is being treated equally. Hotelling is another way to bring that about.

      I think it might be most useful for businesses where a lot of staff are always 'out of the office'. When I started out as a environmental consultant, I only had a couple of project files at any one time. A hotelling setup would have been ideal for us most of us were in the field half the time.
      • Re:"Hotelling" (Score:5, Insightful)

        by krokodil ( 110356 ) on Monday June 03, 2002 @12:50AM (#3629174) Homepage
        The entire headquarters is run out of a large open space similar in size to a high-school gymnasium.

        What a sad picture. I hope future of workplace does
        not head in this direction. I hate cubicles! I like nice offices, possibly for 2-3 persons no more, with non uniform furniture. I like touch of personality in the office. I like wooden desks and shelfs. I like table lapms and filing cabinets. I like to be able to turn on music while I am working. I am programmer, not factory assembly line worker for god sake.

        Here how I would do: I would allocate each emploee certain amout per year to furnish his office. He can chose whatever he wants from furniture and accessories within this budget.

        • Re:"Hotelling" (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Peyna ( 14792 ) on Monday June 03, 2002 @01:12AM (#3629231) Homepage
          Well, Microsoft probably has one of the best worker environments. I'm sure we've all heard how great it is, everyone gets their own office with a window, and put whatever they want to in it; not to mention everything else on their campus. I'm sure that works to their advantage. Just having your own office + window probably boosts productivity enough to be worth it.
    • Steal shopping cart from WalMart.
      Put pictures, dilbert doll, and filing cabinet in it.
      Wheel it wherever you go.
  • Snow Crash (Score:4, Interesting)

    by KillerEggRoll ( 582521 ) on Sunday June 02, 2002 @10:51PM (#3628731)
    Sounds like Snow Crash at the fed office YT's mom worked at. First people at work get the best desks, others are looked down on for getting to work on time (tsk tsk).
    • Re:Snow Crash (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Skyshadow ( 508 )
      More than just encouraging workers to get in early, the government office in Snow Crash was designed to rob any sense of individuality or unique contribution from the workers.

      I wonder if this is something that Sun is looking for on purpose, or if it's just a nifty side bonus. In any event, this officially puts Sun on my list of places to avoid working.
  • by borgheron ( 172546 ) on Sunday June 02, 2002 @10:54PM (#3628739) Homepage Journal
    I can just see it now:

    US 7,888,488: A system and method to allow employees to work from anywhere without having a fixed office.

    Little will the USPTO know that this concept is inspired by a 20 year old concept known as a *dumb terminal*, and they'll patent it anyway.

    Go ahead, mod me down! I've karma to spare!! ;)
  • by jpellino ( 202698 ) on Sunday June 02, 2002 @10:58PM (#3628762)
    They tried this a while back - get to work, go to a window, get your laptop and cell phone, head off to work in your 'office', the caf, outside, etc. They ditched it after finding it was hell to find anyone to have a meeting, which is still necessary no matter how much cyber you want to throw at a situation. One manager had a two-around rule - if he had to walk around the campus twice to find someone he needed, screw them - go on to something workable.
  • they called it musical chairs
    • I think this is the new way that companies will do their layoffs.

      Take away 50 cubicles each day, and if there's no cubicle left for you when you get to work, well, you know what that means...
  • by dws ( 197076 ) on Sunday June 02, 2002 @11:00PM (#3628777)
    An article [] in Business 2.0 covers the history of the officeless office experiment at Chiat/Day. It didn't go so well.
    The end result was predictable: People began working out of the trunks of their cars in frustration, or just staying home. Fifteen months later, Chiat sold his agency and resigned. By 1998, the agency had abandoned the building. "This issue of giving people their personal space is a major one," Chiat says now. "I assumed that everyone would buy into the virtual office concept because it's so logical. But it's counter to everybody's emotional position. After a while I didn't have the energy to try and change that."

  • There was a wired [] article about how the advertising company Chiat-Day started the "hot desk" concept.

    Not coincidentally, the company tanked soon after this started, and had to be sold in order to survive. In their new offices, traditional offices are the rule of the day.

  • by Jucius Maximus ( 229128 ) <> on Sunday June 02, 2002 @11:02PM (#3628785) Journal
    Dilbert comic from 1995 January 09.

    Scene: A staff meeting is in progress...

    PHB With Diagram: We're taking away your cubicles. In the new system you'll sign up for whatever cube is open that day.

    PHB: It's based on the model of public restrooms. But I call it "hotelling" because it increases my chances of getting tips.

    PHB: Each cubicle will have a computer, a chair, and a roll of note paper ... take on and pass it around. [Hands out notepaper roll which looks like toilet paper roll.]

  • by ( 184378 ) on Sunday June 02, 2002 @11:05PM (#3628804) Journal
    A friend of mine works at Sun and gave me a tour a little while back. The building itself was an interesting structure, and of course the computer systems were an experience in themselves.

    The server rooms, conference rooms, and most offices had 24" monitors connected to Sun Ray 1 machines. My friend showed me how he could put his smart card in, and then it would ask him for his password, and he was logged into the exact same desktop that he had in his office. So whatever he was working on "followed" him around. Granted, it was just a remote X terminal, but I thought it was cool.

    And I'm sure there's those of you who say, "it's been done before" or "that's old tech" but as servers get more powerful, and workstations become smaller, quieter, and dumber, it was cool to see this "old tech" being put to (damn) good use.

    While my friend did have his own office, as did everyone else at that particular campus, it could be an interesting management experiment (if you want to call it that) to rotate people's desks around... maybe every month. That way, if people have a problem with coworkers, you can separate them, and that way everyone can get to know everyone else... and the new people don't feel so alienated. Of course, when you have roaming profiles, or dumb terminals, that makes things that much easier.
    • by mattdm ( 1931 ) on Sunday June 02, 2002 @11:14PM (#3628856) Homepage
      They're not remote X terminals. They're remote frame buffers -- they don't even have the brains of an X term.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      My university has employed the Sun Ray system for 2 years now. It is two things: User hell. The systems are really slow. Our university has two 16 processor servers running this system. At about, oh, 20 users it becomes nearly unusably slow. My PII 233 outpaces this system on single-threaded code. Management hell. When something goes wrong with this system, it goes really wrong. The boxes take 20 minutes to boot up, so when it's down, it's down for at least 30 minutes, and that means your whole computer system is down for those 30 minutes. We have redundancy at our university, but one of the boxes never worked right from the start. Some apps still won't run on it (Opera for one).

      I have one thing positive to say about these computers: presentations. There's something cool about making your presentation and loading it all up and pulling out your smart card and then going to where your going to give your presentation and putting in the card and there it is ready to go. No waiting. Then you go and give the presentation and it takes 10 seconds to change slides because they're so slow.

      The one last thing I have to mention about these systems is that they are not worth the money. You can fill an office with PCs for LESS money and then users have a system that they know and can use. I've seen people with these systems as novices. They are completely clueless. It's much better not to expect the public to relearn an OS. Yes, I know, windows is bad, but for office use, when that's what everyone knows, you really need to go that way. My school bought 700 terminals to the tune of $600 a piece. About 70 are in use and if more that 20 people are logged into a computer it's too slow to use. Sun claimed 700 users could use ONE server and we have 2 that breakdown after 40.
      • Wow. (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mindstrm ( 20013 )
        I have to say.. if you are having problems like that, then two things are happening.

        - You don't have adequate resources to handle what you are doing
        - Your administrators have no idea how to maintain large sun servers. You should NOT have reboots that frequently. Once or twice a year, if that is adequate.

        You can't measure a system based on the cost per workstation alone.
        What about software? Maintenance? Etcetera?

        Maintaing a network of PCs is HUGELY expensive compared to a network of sunray machines.

        Six hundred bucks per workstation? I've seen sunrays for a fraction of that. Those must be the ones with built in displays.

        If you say sun claimed one e4500 (or whatever oyu have with 16 processors) could handle 700 desktops, I'd say you, or whoever told you that, is lying, or didn't understand what they said. THat is such outrageous bullshit I can't believe even sun would say that. You'd need an E10k loaded out to the nuts to even *maybe* do that.

        Also, did you have sun factor in the applications you would be running? You see...

        If you tell sun precisely what you want, they will give you a price *and deliver*

      • by buysse ( 5473 )
        I'm running sunrays -- we have a pair of X1s (single processor, slow boxes) running for over 30 stations, and it's /fine/. You don't run compute jobs on those boxes -- you ssh to another box and run your compute-intensive jobs there. Simple enough.

        Most likely, if it's too slow to use after 20 users on a 16-processor box, the box is not the bottleneck (unless every one of those users is re-encoding multiple mpeg files to Divx or similar). A much more likely bottleneck is a piss-poor network design. These things need some serious everfucking bandwidth (my only complaint about it -- I mean, it's a remote framebuffer -- give it simple acceleration functions, even on the level of a ET4000 or a Mach 8!)
    • While my friend did have his own office, as did everyone else at that particular campus, it could be an interesting management experiment (if you want to call it that) to rotate people's desks around... maybe every month. That way, if people have a problem with coworkers, you can separate them,

      We did this in high school!

      Wow, the corporate world becomes ever more domineering. Whatever happened to leaving people alone to do their jobs... Sun doesn't hire just anyone
    • it could be an interesting management experiment (if you want to call it that) to rotate people's desks around... maybe every month. That way, if people have a problem with coworkers, you can separate them, and that way everyone can get to know everyone else... and the new people don't feel so alienated. Of course, when you have roaming profiles, or dumb terminals, that makes things that much easier.

      Uh, or you could just issue everyone laptops, and have them pick up and move.

      Forrester Research has (had?) an interesting way of doing things. They didn't have private offices. They have "pods" which are a rooms which has 3 to 6 desks, and are organized by division. Some divisions, of course, had more than one pod; the one I was in had three pods, next to one another, with internal doorways. Seeting was very egalitarian and random -- as a new temp, I wound up a koosh-ball throw away from the CTO. From time to time, someone would decide they needed a change of view, or to be closer to someone they were working with, and would pick up and move to another (open) desk in the pod (or another pod of the same division). Since their philosophy was to issue laptops by default, moving was a matter of a hour or two, if you had a lot of plants or papers or something.

      So it was for IT, Web Development, HR, Marketing, and, of course, all the Research divisions (the people who make the product :). I get the impression Sales may have been organized differently (cubes).

      I found it really great. The low population of a pod (and I was in one of the crowded pods) meant everyone was quiet enough I could think. People I was working with were right there, and I could see if they were busy/on the phone/etc. before I interrupted them with a question, and without my having to leave my desk. It was pleasantly convival without being distracting. It was nicely flexible and the egalitarianism was very nice.

      And they did it without thin clients. A lot of the putative benefits of thin clients can be gleened from investing in laptops as the default machines for everyone (regardless of platform).

      They did a bunch of unusual business practices which worked really well.

  • by The-Bus ( 138060 ) on Sunday June 02, 2002 @11:05PM (#3628807)
    ...but it pisses everyone off because I'm the only one doing it so I leave my crap everywhere.
  • This reminds me of college. Make sure you are among the first few in the classroom, so you get a good computer. But even if you got the best computer it would still have a crappy keyboard on which the backspace key would get stuck every now and then (it would ALWAYS be the backspace key, so it would delete a few more characters than you wanted it to and you'd have to retype them) and the mouse would be so dirty that it would stick to your hand!! Well, I might be exaggerating a little bit. But the bottom line is if people can't say "this computer is mine" then they simply won't bother treating it with a little care.
    • With appropriate complaint logging in place for hardware issues (such as dirty ass mouse and stuck backspace, etc), and some fun with statistics, management can have some idea of who needs a reminder about taking care of the equipment.

      On the other hand, since all the equipment is sun's, they can probably get it replaced on the cheap.
  • by pgrote ( 68235 ) on Sunday June 02, 2002 @11:14PM (#3628854) Homepage
    If you're interested in what happened, people working out of the trunks of their car, check out this overview.

    Wacky Stuff ...

    Chiat/Day Experiment []
  • When I worked at Bell Labs we had Bit Blit graphics terminals that were all networked to an Amdahl 5880 Mainframe running SVR2. We also had real offices with walls and doors. We could work at our desks or in the labs. It was true mobility without any of the dehuminizing crap. This was back in the late 80's when people were still valued as people.
  • If going to work could be as rich and variable, as, say, going to the library, this could be very cool!
    Imagine! No office cliques, since there'd be no fixed offices!
    Good thing, IMHO.
    Cliques are for idiots.
    You 'rub elbows' with many folk that you don't know! [duffman!] Ohyeah! [/duffman!]
    Excellent foundry for mating opportunities!
    You don't have to deal *every fscking day* with that drooling moron in the next cube that thinks large eyed velvet painting child images of the early 70's constitute 'high art'.
    I'm liking this more and more.
  • by ChanxOT5 ( 542547 ) on Sunday June 02, 2002 @11:18PM (#3628873)
    Ugh, check out the english on this.

    "An office costs about $15,000 per year to maintain, Agnello says, and Sun plans about one desk per employee, including the remote locations, once the system is running, with 18,000 employees, roughly half the company, floating. "

    comma hell!
  • Horrible Idea! (Score:4, Interesting)

    by night_flyer ( 453866 ) on Sunday June 02, 2002 @11:24PM (#3628899) Homepage
    its like low income housing as opposed to a nice apartment complex.

    most people take care of a nice apartment (there are exceptions) but low income housing is almost always in shambles.

    if you have your own workstation & cubicle/office you will have a sense of pride, like you would if you rented a nice apartment. you take care of it and it takes care of you. the people that had it before you more than likely took care of it and the management knew what was wrong with each unit and who the trouble makers were.

    the first come first serve grab a PC would be like low income housing, you would have very little chance of knowing what kind of person was there before, much less the time before that, the management doesnt really care, or is off site and there is very little pride in where you live.
  • SunRay (Score:4, Informative)

    by Torg ( 59213 ) on Sunday June 02, 2002 @11:25PM (#3628903)

    First they are not dumb ternimals, far from it. It is called a SunRay. If you want to know more about them, try []. Amongst other things you can take your SunRay card, pull it from your terminal and go put it in another. As long as the SunRay is on the same system you get your exact desktop back. With SunRay you also dont waste the vast amount of computing resources in your workplace. Don't take my word for it, go ask And that is just for wasted CPU cycles.

    Second it is called Flexable Field Office. This means that you do NOT have to go into to the office to work. It is BECAUSE of this meany of the Sun workers were NOT in the World Trade Center Last September 11. You also do not have to be in your home town to go to an office to do work. Where it made sense, some employes kept their offices.

    Ever wish you could telecommute?

    Yes Sun even pays for its workers home office equipment and Internet access so they can work.

    And Sun saved money doing it.
  • Sanitation ? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Srin Tuar ( 147269 ) <> on Sunday June 02, 2002 @11:29PM (#3628913)

    Doesnt anyone remember the recent story about microbe levels on keyboards and mice? This will be a great victory for the common cold.

    Personnally I cant stand it when other people use my terminal (I learned dvorak, and popped out all the keys on my keyboard primarily to prevent people from using my terminal)

    Somehow, this idea seems stupid, especially wrt their programmers. I certainly wouldnt put up with that environment.

    The last thing I need to see on a monday morning is a moniter covered in fingerprints in front of a coke-sticky keyboard next to the mouse with the retarded ball.

  • Cleanliness (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Not for nothing, but I kind of like knowing that I'm the only dude using my keyboard mouse & phone.

    What happens to me if the guy who used the terminal the day before had a really flu, or if he didn't wash his hands after using the bathroom.

    Pretty disgusting eh?

    Imagine finding someone else's coffee stains or bagel seeds on or inside your keyboard?

    You'd be finding something new and disgusting every day!!!

    • Re:Cleanliness (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Bishop ( 4500 )
      on a related note: I worked in a computer manufactureing and assemply plant. Naturally the plant runs 24/7, and people share equipment and workspaces across shifts. There was rarely a problem with equipment cleanliness. Except with the microscopes used for precision soldering. In particular people would forget to sterilize the eye pieces before and after their shift. This resulted in the occational massive outbraek of "pink eye." An annoying, and very contagious eye infection. You only need to get pink eye once to remember to clean the eye pieces with plenty of alcohol everytime you sit back down at a scope.
  • I have a hard enough time keeping track of my team now that they sit all together. I would have to pack a lunch and a compass for code walk throughs in a situation like this.

  • of companies I'm willing to work for.

    Who does that leave?

    • Hm, this definately counts as a strike against Sun, but after four long months of unemployment I'd work for the Prince of Darkness (Larry Ellison) if he was willing to pay well.
  • And Sun didn't just discover them. They've been using them for a long, long, long time.

    The SunRay, though, is different from your standard X-terminal.
    It's not an X-terminal.

    It's a remote framebuffer, smartcard reader, keyboard, mouse, and audio device.

    When you see an X screen on a sunray terminal, the X server is actually running on a Sun server somewhere, not on the workstation. You are only getting the display; hence there is 0 processing on the terminal, hence it can crash and you can just go to another and re-attach.

    This is nothing new, the SunRay has been out for years.

  • TWEEEEEEEET (Score:4, Interesting)

    by infonography ( 566403 ) on Monday June 03, 2002 @12:02AM (#3629024) Homepage
    Foul called on account of driveling.

    I interviewed at Sun in '98 these where everywhere

    This is neither new nor interesting from a UNIX user's perspective. Only in the Windows world do you really really need a workstation of your own. The model they where using then was the JavaStaion these have been around since 1996 h.961114.html []

    A thin client (Oracle/Larry Ellison propaganda aside) is a jumped up X-Term with a disk drive and maybe a local hard drive or large removable media. If you have a really skilled SysAdmin staff (I imagine Sun does) you can run all your regular UNIX customization & Window Makers on this, Gnome, Enlightenment, and even play Quake where ever your at in the whole world. Your not tied to hardware with can be stolen or virus'd

    So the workstation is $500 a pop, the CPU isn't just a local P-4 or something it's the front end for some big set of Mid-range or higher box like a Sunfire or SunCat or some other UNIX or even Microsoftie server.

    when somebody tells me about how cool their new Dell is and how well it can crunch that Excel, I just smile, I can have screensavers that are actual Fractals in real time. Wine sessions that out run the latest P4

    Ok, so the one you saw has got a little Grey Flannel Suit look to it, but you have to remember it's a company system. Sorry to be L33tist but if the bulk of your contact with a computer is 9-5 your going to have fish as your screensaver and a picture of your kids as your background.

    As we progress with the routine technical advancement your going to see a things like SUN 450 Enterprise w/Quad 480Mhz processors [] showing up on Ebay for $500, Likely in about 18 months

    Schools and small businesses are going to start wondering why they are being nibbled to death by Microsoft and Apple and the various shadowy and dodgy hardware vendors (Compaq, Dell, Packard Bell) and switch into where this setup is more common it will look more like the NAVI from Lain []

    • "Only in the Windows world do you really really need a workstation of your own."

      Exactly how do you figure?

      The company I work for has been using Windows NT for years and we essentially have the same setup. The desktops are the same throughout the company, and I can go to any of them and get my basic work done. All of your data, email, everything is stored out on the network drives and accessible from any computer in the company quite easily.

      I've been working out of two different buildings for the past 4 years with no problems and I'm certainly not using a laptop.

      • Re:TWEEEEEEEET (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Cato ( 8296 )
        This only works in Windows where you have identical apps everywhere. Unix workstation setups can have all apps installed on servers but run on the clients, meaning that an engineer gets a unique set of apps when they log on to the same workstation just used by a manager.

        You probably have to see this to realise how much better it is than Windows.
        • Re:TWEEEEEEEET (Score:3, Informative)

          by sheldon ( 2322 )
          Actually I have seen it the way you discuss. I was at Iowa State University and spent 4 years working with Project Vincent(a distributed environment based off the Project Athena work from MIT).

          Windows has evolved to the point that it is manageable in a very similar manner. With the introduction of Windows 2000, I could distribute applications to an end user on a needed basis.

          One of the fundamental problems that the Unix model you talk about has is that the files needed to run the application all reside on file servers. This results in two things. First, high network utilization, and second, decreased client performance.

          You can mitigate these issues slightly, but you never really solve them until you install the application files on the local client. You mention engineers, but don't seem to understand that these are the users who would be most impacted by this as many advanced applications consume large amounts of storage for their binary files.

          While at ISU our biggest issue in this regard was a GIS package from ESRI called Arc/Info. The binaries for this app consumed about 500 Megs of drive space all totaled. There was a considerable difference between loading this from local disk versus over a network drive. i.e. like 5 seconds versus 60 seconds on a DEC Alpha station. As such it made sense to install the application to local disk to maintain good performance.

          I guess I should also point out that the Windows world also used this same model with all apps residing on the file server back in the era of Windows 3.1. But again the network utilization and performance impact became signifigant constraints. With harddrive prices falling over time it became economically infeasible to continue to maintain this type of environment and the world switched at around the time of Win95/NT4.

          The point being it is not much better than it is in Windows, your solution happens to have some severe limitations which makes it impractical and inefficient.

          The Windows 2000 model whereby the desktops get a standard set of applications to start with and additional applications are pulled down on an as needed basis is really quite better.
  • Slashdot just told us that workstations are dirtier than toilets [] and now Sun wants people to share them on a regular basis? Be sure to bring a can of Lysol in your briefcase.
  • Sun has turned normal office work into something more like a call center sweatshop. Damnit! When I was doing tech support, I had to 'share' my desk with 400 other agents. I NEVER sat in the same place twice for something like 2 and a half years. And boy is that a killer on the old moral. Now those Sun folk have to deal with traffic, an empty coffee pot at work and now they have to fight each other for desks. Oh least I don't work there.
  • ... that no matter how early you arrive you cannot take Scott McNealy's office. Bleh, the big wigs that push these things through to "save costs" and encourage the grunts to get in earlier should have to play by the same rules! :-)
  • Not in US, though, in an asian city where office space were expensive. They locked us up in a tight room where no. of 3270 terminals is much less than no. of interns, contracts and supplementary staffs(yes, they called us supplementary) in this room. If you were late and couldn't find a terminal then you must search thru the building for an unused one "there's always one out there" they said.

    It worked as the PHBs expected - in the beginning. In order to fight for a terminal which had no blind spot on the green screen and keyboard with no defective keys we had come up with all the dirty tricks a human could imagine. Some people took the aggressive approach like splitting on the keyboards and claimed that they had got some incurable infectable disease, some took a rather defensive tactics like taking sleep beds to office and stayed in the room overnight just to get a working terminal until their projects done; some are very organizational who formed gangs to create their own 'district' where no others could cross the lines to approach their terminals.

    We could tolerate this because we didn't have the concept of 'sweatshop' and we didn't usually sue our employers here, but I'm sure those PH-cluebies finally learnt when all the good people left.

    Finally Sun is catching up with this. :)
  • ...and dumb terminals are so 70's and early 80's. Lets join the 21st century people. There is a reason why they died and were replaced by pc's and fat clients. Otherwise we would all be using mainframes and dumb terminals right now like IBM would of wanted.

  • It's just like the Matrix, when Neo sits at the empty desk - nothing personal around.
  • A Senior executive in a nice corner office with 2 big windows and a personal secretary. These directives only create resentment towards management unless executives are willing to work under the same conditions. I sincerely doubt Scott McNealy is working in one of these cubes with a dumb terminal.
  • by SlashChick ( 544252 ) <<zib.acire> <ta> <acire>> on Monday June 03, 2002 @02:37AM (#3629482) Homepage Journal
    I'm tempted to post anonymously, but since this is now in my past, I won't.

    I actually worked in Sun's San Francisco flex office (the one that is mentioned in the article.) I have a lot of stories, both good and bad, about this way of working. First, let me start with a bit of an explanation.

    On one of Sun's internal websites, there is a Java applet where you go to reserve workspaces. People like me who didn't have a "real" office were allowed to reserve 14 days in advance for up to 5 consecutive days. Others were allowed to reserve anything that was left. So it's not as much of a potshot as you might imagine -- I was in the office 4-5 days a week and most of the seats weren't even reserved. You could reserve at home through Sun's remote access, so it wasn't like there was a huge line building up at 7AM or something.

    I can tell you the pros and cons, but I'm biased because I absolutely hated it. I hated the formulaic offices, and I hated that personal decorations were frowned upon. But the thing that really drove me crazy was that we were expected to use the UNIX terminals in lieu of any Windows or Macintosh laptop that we might have available. In fact, I was asked to give up my laptop because it looked bad for me to have a laptop on my desk and not be using my Solaris workstation (I had a real workstation because I tested websites on different browsers on Solaris.) The whole thing made me extremely bitter toward the company and was one of the main reasons for me leaving. I feel that it's hypocritical to hire a web developer who is used to using Photoshop, a nice solid text editor, and Dreamweaver, throw that developer in front of vi and the Gimp, and expect that web developer to be as productive as before.

    However, if you could get all your work done on Solaris, it worked out well. Most of the non-technical people got used to CDE (!) and were fine with a Netscape window. If all you need is Netscape, Star Office, and a couple of other applications, then sure -- a flex office is beneficial. A friend of mine still works out of that office, but she's not there very often, which is the whole point. She works all over the Bay Area and doesn't seem to mind giving up the development applications of a Windows or Macintosh machine. Then again, she isn't a developer...

    I think whether you like these offices or not depends on your personality. I must admit that Sun pulled it off well -- it's a solid implementation. The applet on the website shows you where person X is at any given moment, and you can forward your phone extension anywhere, even to a cell phone or to your home phone, so you're never out of touch. I had a real problem with it because I am a highly creative person who requires certain applications that simply aren't available on Solaris. This, and the lack of office decorations, really threw me out of my comfort zone, and I know I wasn't the only one. Apparently, however, I was in the minority. (I suppose the others who hated it, many of whom were my startup-personality friends, also left.)

    I hesitate to just bash on Sun since I know that it was more of a personality clash than a bad implementation, but to anyone who is considering this: the creative minds in your company will hate it. I'm talking about the people with their offices/cubicles decorated with every imaginable sticker and toy -- the ones who treat their office as a second home. These are often some of your most productive and worthy employees, so be sure to listen to their needs.

    This article really struck a nerve with me. It brought back all the frustration I had with working in that office. I can only hope that the others like me have had their complaints heard or, like me, have left for greener pastures. To the rest of you -- stick with the small-group (2-3 person offices). That was the environment in which most of us thrived.

    -- I left Sun in May.
  • Sun isn't so much discovering the dumb terminal, as re-descovering it.

    Portable offices have been a reality in the Unix world for more than a decade.

    When I worked at the University of British Columbia in 1991, we had it down pretty pat -- and this was in a hetrogenous (but almost entirely Unix) environment. We had Suns, SGIs, IBM RS/6000s, NeXts and a good smattering of other random UNIX varients. Everybody was served by a network of NFS and NIS servers, and you could log in anywhere you want to do your work..

    Not all of this was dumb terminals, though. People with light CPU loads would have X terminals and people with heavy CPU (or better funding!) would use a real workstation. Because home directories (and most binaries) were NFS mounted, I could log into any machine in our department (split over 2 buildings and 1/2 a mile) and do my work.

    For part of my time, my desktop terminal was a 5-year old Sun-3 set to boot dataless, later on I was assigned a low-end SGI. Now, granted, the SGI did a far better job as a flight simulator, but for most of my work, the Sun-3 was quite satisfactory. For any of my heavy work I could log into one of the heavy-duty compute monsters (Either physically or remotely depending on the type of work needed) and work there.

    word to the wise: in any remote-computing environment, always double check which machine your terminal is connected to before you do things like rebooting the system or formatting a filesystem.

  • by geekotourist ( 80163 ) on Monday June 03, 2002 @03:23AM (#3629564) Journal
    I hope that Sun tries out an experiment in potential productivity loss before implementing this:
    1. Take a group of engineers / analysts / documentation people
    2. find some measure of productivity and satisfaction for that group.
    3. Then mix them in with sales / support people, where random loud phone calls and talking interruptions are the rule
    4. see what this does to the first groups' productivity...

    I'd bet heavily that productivity (i.e. ability to find bugs, model a market, write a well crafted paragraph) goes down. Not hideously down, just enough to make great programmers merely good, and good programmers seek other employment.

    Mixing phone people with keyboard people isn't nice. It makes the phone people feel guilty and rude, if they know the programmers, etc. are trying to meet deadlines. (And people who listen to their 19 voicemail messages by speakerphone: Dante has a 6th circle reservation just for you. It involves Muzak and a pair of 20 billion watt speakers, so Don't Do It. Thanks.) It makes the programmers jumpy- you never know when a beautiful train of thought and logic gets derailed on the "RING, RING...Hi! Glad you got Back to me on those trade show booth color quotes! Teal? Lets talk Blue!Blue Blue Blah Blah..." the next cubicle over. I've been in this situation, and it hurts.

    And it ignores that paper is still a useful office object- crisp clear text that can be stared at for more than 1/2 hour without your eyes going numb, easy to spread out and cover with sticky notes...but no, you'll have to clean it up and put it away each night, regardless of sudden deadlines.

    I'll bet even more heavily that they did only a Benefit estimate, not a Cost-Benefit estimate, when they came up with that $150 million figure. I doubt they'll study it at all.

    Well, as Neal so aptly wrote (but darnitall he was making fun of them at the time, it wasn't supposed to be emulated):

    " So Y.T.'s mom has clacked up the stairs in her black pumps and gone into her office, actually a large room with computer workstations placed across it in a grid... So no more partitions. Just workstations and chairs. Not even any desktops. Desktops encourage the use of paper, which is archaic and reflects inadequate team spirit. What is so special about your work that you have to write it down on a piece of paper that only you get to see? That you have to lock it away inside a desk? When you're working for [Future Sun]... You do your work on the computer. The computer keeps a copy of everything, so that if you get sick or something, it's all there where your co-workers and supervisors can get access to it... And there's the question of interchangeability. [Future Sun] workers, like military people, are intended to be interchangeable parts. What happens if your workstation should break down? You're going to sit there and twiddle your thumbs until it gets fixed? No siree, you're going to move to a spare workstation... you don't have that flexibility if you've got half a ton of personal stuff cached inside of a desk, strewn around a desktop..." (Snow Crash, 93 paperback, pg 281)
  • by jsimon12 ( 207119 ) <> on Monday June 03, 2002 @09:19AM (#3630285) Homepage
    This is really for the most part used for consultants, sales and the like that travel a lot and really aren't in the office most of the time. Programmers, sys admins, admins and those that are in the office all the time still have real desks. And if you want to argue with me I work for Sun and I am a consultant and I had a desk the first year I was with the company and was in the office I think a total of 4 days. This kinda office enviunment makes sense if you understand the context it is used in.
  • by ajv ( 4061 ) on Monday June 03, 2002 @12:05PM (#3631476) Homepage
    When an office is designed around making the office the primary focus, rather than the humans that occupy it, you have lost. It's not the office that generates revenue - it's the human workforce.

    To create shareholder value, you have to make the workforce productive, and nothing - and I mean nothing - makes a workforce more loyal, productive and ready to jump through hoops for you than happiness and belief in their own greatness. This office deliberately sets out to destroy human qualities by dehumanizing the workplace (ie, photos being frowned upon, etc).

    Offices such as this have no human response, and in fact, it's like a disgruntled or evil bean counter (ie a human Catbert) wanted to make the most offensive office they could.

    I'll tell you a story about why Sun will go broke in the next 10-20 years, and irrelevant in 2-5 years (just as SGI are irrelevant now*). About six years ago, Sun (and several other high end Unix vendors) responded to a multi-milion dollar tender. All the other vendors concentrated on unique features of their hardware (Digital on clustering and massive scalability, etc), software and service offerings. Sun concentrated on bashing Microsoft for 90% of their face time with us. Microsoft wasn't even in the potential set of competitors! And to top it off, Sun was the least competitive of all the bids - slowest hardware, and most expensive.

    Sun - you have to focus on making the humans happy. Whether they be your users, your customers, or your employees.

    * I work in the security industry, and it's been three years since I've seen an SGI in production, and I've been to hundreds of clients all over Australia. I've seen an Aviion and a DG/UX box since the last time I saw an SGI, for example!

Executive ability is deciding quickly and getting somebody else to do the work. -- John G. Pollard