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Sun Microsystems The Almighty Buck

Sun Microsystems, a CEO's Last Stand? 257

pillageplunder writes "Businessweek's cover article is a sharp look at Sun Microsystems. The gist of the article? That its fall can be laid at the Feet of its CEO, Scott McNealy. Overall, a balanced read, one that does a good recap of the the high and the very low low's that Sun has reached under McNealy."
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Sun Microsystems, a CEO's Last Stand?

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  • by Kjuib ( 584451 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @09:35AM (#9724861) Homepage Journal
    can I just email my resume to HR@sun.com? or should I walk in and say I want the job?
    • by Moderation abuser ( 184013 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @09:51AM (#9724919)
      First, you must have some experience of having brought another major corporation to it's knees in the past.

      On a serious note, why is it that CEOs are rewarded very handsomely for poor performance and failure when the rest of us get fired when we don't get the job done, or even are perceived as not being value for money?

      • by Zocalo ( 252965 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @10:02AM (#9724957) Homepage
        First, you must have some experience of having brought another major corporation to its knees in the past.

        So, you're saying that Darl McBride might still have career opportunities after SCO? Damn.

        Then again, SCO isn't a major corporation and was already scrabbling in the industry detritus when he took over, so there's still hope.

      • That's easy. CEO and Director compensation is such a highly complex issue that it is usually decided by an external review body. And the composition of this review body ? A bunch of Directors and CEOs from other companies. Seems fair.
      • by the_mad_poster ( 640772 ) <shattoc@adelphia.com> on Saturday July 17, 2004 @10:20AM (#9725038) Homepage Journal

        I always figured that if you were at the top of the heap, and you were surrounded by friends, you could do pretty much anything you want.

        In theory, to get to the top, you should know what's best for the business, how to implement what's best for the business, and be trustworthy to do so. However, anymore, it seems like an ivy league degree and some friends in high places are what it takes to get to the top. People aren't made into leaders just because they have that little slip of paper. Sure, it helps cultivate people who already have the talent, but just forcing your way through school won't make you a leader if you didn't have the skills to begin with.

        OTOH, people like us are viewed as "resources". Therefore, we can be replaced, upgraded, downgraded, or simply pitched out like used up garbage. We have the skills, but not the connections. The people who have the connections frequently don't have the skills to evaluate OUR skills because they were hired, again, because of their little piece of paper rather than promoted because of what they proved they knew.

        It really is a scary deformation of the way things are supposed to be. I'm sure management has a different view of things, but that's how I see it, and, from talking to other people, I don't seem to be alone in having that view.

        • by Roached ( 84015 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @11:50AM (#9725439)
          I'm a software engineer who recieved my Masters in CS and am about to complete an MBA as well, so I've got some perspective from both sides.

          Basically, you're right in that management views you as a resource that is somewhat replaceable. To expand on this though, you're not as easily replaceable as the fry cook at McDonalds so a little more strategy is involved. In order to accomodate for this, the MBA program teaches classes in "Leadership" and "Organizational Behavior". These classes veil themsleves as "making the employees happy an productive" but the reality is that they are courses in how to manipulate people into doing what you want, possibly to their detriment, while still thinking things are great.

          Someone skilled in these management tools can keep you thinking you're work environment is awesome right up till you get your pink slip.

          Bottom line: always look out for yourself and never trust the management
          • by Anonymous Coward
            Except the techniques never work. People see through it, and complain about how stupid and evil their management is and how they hate their jobs. So what's the point of the facade if it's ineffective?
            • by Anonymous Coward
              > So what's the point of the facade if it's ineffective?

              to compensate for a little penis, as always.
          • by Pathetic Coward ( 33033 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @01:12PM (#9725834)
            Not as easily replaceable?

            McDonalds fry cooks can't be replaced by workers in Bangalore.
          • Basically, you're right in that management views you as a resource that is somewhat replaceable.

            Unfortunately, one of the goals of management is to assure that its employees are replaceable. For the health of the organization, you do not want to create a dependency on any one person or group. The company has to assure that they will still be able to function if any network admin or programmer leaves. For that matter, I believe it wise to migrate employees through different positions in the company to re

          • I'm a software engineer who recieved my Masters in CS and am about to complete an MBA as well, so I've got some perspective from both sides.

            Turn back from the dark side before it's too late. (Only slightly kidding.)

        • "it seems like an ivy league degree and some friends in high places are what it takes to get to the top."

          According to xap.com, about 5,000 students graduate from Yale each year; Harvard has (a surprisingly modest) 2,000; Duke comes in at a little over 3,000; and U Penn (Philadephia)is a smidgen below 4,000. There are probably other Ivy League Universities (I'm a Brit, so I'm not even dead certain all these are Ivy League either...)

          Now; lets assume a conservative (before business school and Masters degree
          • Um. There are a hell of a lot more than 500 CEO positions. In fact, the "Helzburg School of Management" (yea.. THAT doesn't sound like the punchline to a Dilbert joke) claims 1800 of its own alumni in CEO positions [rockhurst.edu] by itself.

            I also believe I said MANAGEMENT, not CEO specifically (but, I'm too lazy to go check). My bad if I specified only CEOs, I'm referring to the whole of "upper" management here.

            • I wasn't being serious. I largely agree with your post: I just think that most Ivy League graduates, with or without friends in high places don't end up CEOs of anything.

              I graduated from Cambridge University in '95 (admittedly with a philosophy degree, and a penchant for good wine). None of my friends - even the wekk connected ones - look like they are going to end up CEOs of anything, not even the Local 7-11.

              Yet many of the CEOs I know (especially those who started their own company) are self-educated.
        • by telbij ( 465356 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @12:19PM (#9725579)
          OTOH, people like us are viewed as "resources". Therefore, we can be replaced, upgraded, downgraded, or simply pitched out like used up garbage. We have the skills, but not the connections. The people who have the connections frequently don't have the skills to evaluate OUR skills because they were hired, again, because of their little piece of paper rather than promoted because of what they proved they knew.

          And yet because of business you can get a job that pays $75,000 a year, have cheap commodity hardware to play on, and live in a world largely shaped by the efforts of 'people like us'.

          Look, of course business has a tendency towards evil. It's sad that the most altruistic and non-money-oriented people don't get paid more, but the truth is as immutable as a physical law: People with lots of money and power are generally that way because they pursue it. Sure they need us to have power, and it's a bit of a good ol' boys club, but we are all complicit because a) we are not so power hungry, and b) they give us cool stuff.

          I know it's frustrating to be viewed as nothing more than a cog, but don't let it bother you. The powerful few view everyone this way, and why not? They couldn't run a business if they took the time to know how to evaluate every type of employee. You can take consolation in the fact that they are no more likely to be happy then you are, and probably have a much higher stress-level. They are surrounded by sharks day in and day out, and may have a very difficult time discovering who their true friends are (if any).

          Bottom line is, we didn't choose this career for money and peer recognition is more important than manager recognition anyway. If they knew what you knew they wouldn't need you, so be thankful you have a job doing something you love. This is a pretty unique time in history as far as that goes.
      • On a serious note, why is it that CEOs are rewarded very handsomely for poor performance and failure when the rest of us get fired when we don't get the job done, or even are perceived as not being value for money?

        Why indeed? The previous CEO of Northwestern Power made many millions annually and had obscene perks while he drove the company into bankruptcy and devastated the long-term shareholders, who were mostly just regular customers of the utility. After he was fired/resigned, the board of directors

  • Again? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by bconway ( 63464 ) * on Saturday July 17, 2004 @09:39AM (#9724876) Homepage
    This is starting to get as funny as "This is the year of Linux on the desktop," but while we get those articles once a year, we get Sun-is-dying articles on a monthly basis. It isn't going to happen anytime in the near future guys, no matter how many times you write articles that lack any supporting information in the hopes of someone viewing your BusinessWeek site.
    • RTFA. It doesn't talk about Sun "dying", but about it's decline into near irrelevance. To quote:

      Six years later, as the boom of the late 1990s came to a crashing end, Wall Street had more advice for McNealy: Batten down the hatches for the storm ahead; slash research; lay off staffers; and get serious about low-cost products. Once again, McNealy held his ground. But this time, he was dreadfully wrong. Sun's sales have tumbled 48% in the past three years, it has lost a third of its market share -- and it co

    • Blame Apple (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Matthias Wiesmann ( 221411 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @01:08PM (#9725821) Homepage Journal
      I think the reason why see those Sun is dying articles is because the 'Apple is dying' articles are starting to be really difficult to take seriously.

      Actually, the article is eerily similar to the 'Apple should have' articles. Basically, what was done wrong was to try to do new things, invest in research. Instead the company should have built wintel boxes like Dell and fired a maximum of people.

      How many companies have been successful in imitating Dell except Dell?

    • yeah, It's like how we get a monthly, or bi-monthly apple troll article. like the one yesterday.

      You know why the most negative news always comes in the most? because people are cynical depressed bastards in all honesty.

      and to make their lives a little more exciting, they have to have bad news, or bad news about someone else having trouble. That's why your local news ALWAYS has something about children getting raped, people getting kidnapped, soldiers being beheaded, detah, destruction, murder, pain, sadne
  • Brave Sun (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 17, 2004 @09:40AM (#9724877)
    and the very low low's that Sun has reached under McNealy.

    I certainly wouldn't want to reach under McNealy, especially near his low lows.

  • by GGardner ( 97375 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @09:44AM (#9724892)
    At the various conferences and other tech events I go to, I've met many Sun and Microsoft employees. One thing that really strikes me is that I've yet to meet a Sun employee younger than about 35, but I've also never met a Microsoft employee (other than an executive) over 35. I think this creates problems for both companies.
    • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Saturday July 17, 2004 @09:51AM (#9724920) Homepage Journal
      Yes, you really do need a mix, and I think the tech world as a whole is starting to realize it. (I can't speak for whether Microsoft or Sun has done so, of course.) Experience and energy both count; you get the best results when you have both.
      • by drooling-dog ( 189103 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @12:15PM (#9725549)
        Experience and energy both count; you get the best results when you have both.

        In some ways, energy slowly gets killed by experience, rather than being the result of age per se. In my 20s, technology was cool and I was thrilled with what I found myself increasingly able to do (and with what I was entrusted to do). That made 12 and 14 hour days zip by like nothing, and the occasional all-nighter seemed fun. Now, in my 40s, I can do just about everything more efficiently and with fewer false starts, but the "cool" aspect has diminished and motivation for extraordinary effort has to be found somewhere else...

        • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Saturday July 17, 2004 @12:39PM (#9725669) Homepage Journal
          True enough; I started programming a bit later than a lot of the folks here on /. (late 20's, in my mid 30's now) and I've seen people both older and younger than me follow the same path of "oh wow, this is cool" --> "yeah, it's a job" --> burnout. I'm not burned out yet, but I can feel it starting to happen, and it's probably a good thing that I'm going to be getting a PhD in another field and hopefully find an academic/research position which, while it may require me to do some programming, won't be the run-of-the-mill DBA work I do now.

          But there really is a certain amount of energy -- for everything, not just marathon coding sessions -- that youth brings to the table, and some of it is purely as function of age. All other things being equal, a 25 y/o with five years of experience is going to be much more energetic than a 40 y/o with the same experience. Young people also really do tend to have more imagination than their elders, and are more likely to see a novel way of solving a problem that their older counterparts would just never think of.

          On the other side of the coin, you get programmers like my father, who has been doing it since the mid-Sixties, and has worked on a wide variety of both business and technical problems in just about every industry you can name. He flat-out refuses to do the marathons -- hell, he's earned it -- but then, he doesn't have a reason for them; he's seen it all, doesn't ever have to reinvent the wheel, and is at least as productive in 8 hours as a twentysomething whiz kid is in 12. (I consider myself squarely between the two extremes, obviously.) But he does like working with younger programmers who keep him sharp.

          Like I said, a mix works best. I'm currently the project lead for a group ranging in age from 18 to 44, so I have a pretty good idea of how this works ...
        • I disagree. It has more to do with trying new technologies/methods than with age. I am mid-30's and have found that changing jobs keeps me excited and full of energy. I basically started with analog electronics, then switched to digital, then I worked with mainframe systems, then with pc hardware, then with pc software, then focused on networking ( Banyan Vines, Windows, etc ), then network administration, and now most recently I am doing web development and perl scripting. A perk is a finally working in
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 17, 2004 @10:27AM (#9725074)
      /me waves ... 33 and been at Sun for 4 years. Of course, I was aquired, not hired, and most of the people my age who were aquired have been fired ("RIF'ed").

      There are a number of Sun engineering offices that have a majority age under 35, but alot of those are overseas so you won't meet them. The offices in California and the Sales offices definitely are of an older average age.

      As for the article ... it was spot-on. Alot of us down in the lower ranks have been saying the same things that the execs quoted in the article said. And most of us knew that McNealy was the one dodging the issues (sorry, holding steady). Personally I won't be too surprised, if Sun keeps the current stock trend, to see a company like IBM buy Sun out and strip out everything but R&D. We're good at R&D, but we've lost touch with the market.
    • by IOOOOOI ( 588306 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @11:08AM (#9725266)
      I too have some first hand experience comparing M$ and Sun.

      Whenever a M$ sales team comes-a-knocking, its always 3 or 4 pushy guys.

      Whenever Sun calls, its a smoking hot sales chick (to weaken your resolve) and a grandfatherly guy who actually knows his shit (to instill confidence).

  • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <bruce@perens.com> on Saturday July 17, 2004 @09:44AM (#9724894) Homepage Journal
    Sun is stuck in making a transition from high-margin products to low-margin ones. Their workstations had 70% margins in their heyday. Linux and MS Windows have eaten that market - 5 years later than people outside of Sun thought it would happen, but it happened. But Sun can't make the transition to low-margin products without damaging the remainder of their high-margin ones, and they can't accept that. So, expect them to behave as if their low-margin products are directed at the high-margin products of other companies while simultaneously attempting to protect their own high-margin products from their own low-margin ones. The result is that they will exhibit a sort of corporate multiple-personality disorder, something evident with Sun for several years.

    Bruce

    • The "reason" that was usually given for Sun's demise from the Wintel onslaught was the Itanic -er- Itanium. Funny how we haven't heard much from the Biz rags about that fiasco.

      Along those lines, I'd say that Sun has done much better than HewPaq in the Unix system market.

    • by scoove ( 71173 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @11:08AM (#9725263)
      Sun can't make the transition to low-margin products without damaging the remainder of their high-margin ones

      Clayton Christensen has got to be mildly amused at Sun's disposition (and probably wondering why McNealy didn't fork out the $12 bucks to buy his rather significant book [amazon.com]).

      This is classic high-margin "focusing and developing your product line's evolution on your top 5% customers" as well as a clear non-response to Clayton's "trivial technology" via Sun's insistence that Linux could not do what Solaris does.

      In the mid-90s, I began predicting Sun's demise when we encountered their Netra Internet "server" fiasco. Sun took a Sparc5, completely crippled its OS, removed its video card (serial or network interface - progressive, eh?), and then made misrepresentations as to what software was included. For instance, it was billed as a web server - but in actuality, it had a FTP server and a copy of Mosaic client software for download. Wala... it was "serving up web software."

      Having bought several dozens of these based on Sun's misrepresentations, the only salvation was to buy video cards, full Solaris licenses (with a C compiler which was also excluded from the Netra) and make them a Sparc5 once again (at well over the cost of simply purchasing a Sparc5). Not only was the Sun product manager's response mystifying (blaming the customer for having unique and special needs - what, running http as falsely advertised?), but even more amusing was that no Sun support group had any awareness of this product.

      More revealing, however, was that Netra was a stillborne attempt to enter lower margin (ala 40%?) products without threatening the cash cow. It failed miserably and I would expect some of the behind-the-scenes politics might explain why support knew nothing of the product and why it was permitted to leave Sun crippled to the point of unusability. Shortly after my public criticism, it was pulled.

      I encountered similar high-marginosis several years later when Sun was pushed as a required platform for numerous Lucent products. The gifted Linux and FreeBSD work of an company employee allowed several thousand dollars worth of Intel hardware to replace quarter-million dollar Sun servers.

      As Bruce writes, I'd suggest Sun's high-margin cash-cow myopia goes back well into the early 90s, when according to Clayton's theory, the time to respond to Linux and *BSD was immediate. It'd be interesting if others have Sun experiences, especially with respect to any lower-margin product introductions/failures, that might further illustrate Sun's trouble.

      *scoove*
      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 17, 2004 @11:52AM (#9725449)
        Wala...
        Sorry, I can't read any further; all breakers tripped. "Voilà." It's from the French, idiomatically used to express triumph and delight; it translates roughly into "see here!" "Wala," on the other hand, is, well, it's... it's just pathetic. "Wala." I mean, come ON. How can you get to the age where you can manipulate a computer, and even write seven internally consistent paragraphs (your conclusions are another thing, but this is a spelling flame; let's not get too off-track), with a link to a real book and everything, that you even appear to have read, and still we get: "Wala."

        Here, let's at least make it a little more dramatic: "wa-LA!" Now I feel a sense of the theater; the magician has just performed his best trick. Pity it was a with a deck of TV Magic(TM) Cards, but what did you expect? The guy said "Wala" instead of "Voilà!"

        Wala. You don't happen to use "formally" instead of "formerly" too, such as in, "I formally had credibility, but then I used 'wala' instead of 'voilà'"? That one drives me nuts, too.

        Wala.

      • by reynhout ( 89071 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @12:06PM (#9725506)
        eh?

        I loved the Netras. They were exactly the right product.

        What is the value of a video card on a webserver? Or a floppy drive? Or even a CD-ROM, though I would usually end up ordering them, for the additional $135.

        Would you really have run the Sun-supplied httpd under any circumstances?? At the time, they were always shipping versions that were seriously outdated. They shipped sendmail4 for YEARS after sendmail8 was out! (This I never understood.)

        I bought hundreds of Netras (literally, for a dozen different clients). They were a great way to build a cheap presentation layer for a web farm.

        The standard pair of network interfaces was nice too (and rare among HW vendors, at the time). It saved $800 for a quad card.

        Yes, they were IDE and there was no MBus. That didn't bother me at all. I used them where there were already good design reasons for system redundancy, either for failover or scaling.

        So obviously, the Netras fit my needs perfectly and not yours. For those who weren't around at the time, Linux was *not* a viable option for a large production web farm at the time. It definitely *is* now, and IMHO that's why Sun is so devalued.

        Solaris is still superior to Linux in many ways, but Linux is just as good or better for the vast majority of the market. If they were priced equally (TCO- admins, hardware, and software combined), Solaris would still be holding on. They aren't. It isn't.

        I still own a bunch of Sun stock that I'm unwilling to sell at this deep of a loss. Come on Scott, make me proud of my stubbornness. Steve did! :-)

      • by Bruce Perens ( 3872 ) <bruce@perens.com> on Saturday July 17, 2004 @12:28PM (#9725622) Homepage Journal
        I would propose as the cardinal sin of the computer industry: protecting your own higher-priced or older products from your own newer, lower-priced products. This was a primary contributor to DEC's demise. When the VAX 750 came out, it really could have been as fast as a 780. For a while there was an aftermarket kit to un-cripple it so that it would indeed have performance close to a 780. But having a much cheaper machine of similar performance available would have hurt those high-margin 780 sales, and worse, would make the people who had just caused their companies to buy big-ticket 780's to look stupid or even lose their jobs.

        But nobody made Sun protect DEC's lines. So, Sun won. Sun seems to have forgotten that lesson.

        Bruce

        • I would propose as the cardinal sin of the computer industry: protecting your own higher-priced or older products from your own newer, lower-priced products. This was a primary contributor to DEC's demise.

          How would you compare this to when they dropped the PDP-10 for the VAX?

      • Sidebar on Netra (Score:3, Informative)

        by davecb ( 6526 ) *
        The Netras where stripped units meant to be bought in dozen lots by the telcoms, who in fact bought a **ton** of them.

        They resembled nexus.yorku.ca, which was a SPARC 1+ which I took the video card out of and shoved in a rack to support a large dial-in community, many moons ago (;-)) That was, you see, the way to get a small compute server cheap.

        --dave

    • by davecb ( 6526 ) * <davec-b@rogers.com> on Saturday July 17, 2004 @12:10PM (#9725524) Homepage Journal
      Bruce Perens wrote: Sun is stuck in making a transition from high-margin products to low-margin ones

      I think that's true in the low-end-product space, but that isn't where Sun is making money or where they're putting their effort. The part of the business that was most successful was servers, initially just retargeted workstations and small multiprocessors, and eventually medium and large multiprocessors.

      The opportunity in the server space is to significantly lower the cost per unit work, something which I expect the whole industry to be doing in a few years.

      Right now, Sun and IBM have their first dual-core chipsets out, in small quantities and starting with the medium-to-large server markets. The big cost reduction will be when they, (and AMD, and probably SGI), have 8- and 16-way multithreaded chips out. These deal with the huge mismatch between CPU and memory speed, and will be able to saturate a modern memory bus by running enough threads to keep the ALUs earning their keep even when individual threads are blocked waiting on a fetch.

      At that time, we'll see something like a 10:1 or perhaps 30:1 jump in price-performance. Which, I claim, is A Good Thing (;-))

      This, in turn, means the competition will be once again in the server market, where the middle and large ends are both high-margin, and a significant jump in price-perfromance will justify the margins.

      I do eventually expect to see low-end multi-threaded chips, probably in blade or 1U enclosures, for a relatively high price per unit but with a very high price-performance offsetting that.

      --dave

  • by Daniel Dvorkin ( 106857 ) * on Saturday July 17, 2004 @09:45AM (#9724899) Homepage Journal
    I couldn't find the word "beleagured" anywhere in the article.

    Oh, wait. Sun, not Apple. Got it.
    • I'm not sure what is true in the article. It says:

      Today, Intel's processors are twice as fast as SPARC chips, and McNealy admits that his biggest regret is "not putting Solaris on [Intel's chips] six or seven years ago."

      Look at the dates here:

      -rw-r--r-- 1 213 users 213275 Oct 3 1998 jpeg.6b.i86pc.Solaris.2.6.pkg.tgz
      -rw-r--r-- 1 213 users 48524 Oct 3 1998 zlib.1.1.3.i86pc.Solaris.2.6.pkg.tgz
      -rw-r--r-- 1 213 users 3153437 Sep 17 1998 perl5.004.04.i86pc.Solaris.2
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 17, 2004 @09:46AM (#9724901)
    OMG Sun is dying
    OMG Apple is dying
    OMG *BSD is dying
    OMG Linux is ... wait a minute. Almost slipped.
  • by AndroidCat ( 229562 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @09:47AM (#9724906) Homepage
    "The Internet is still wildly underhyped, underutilized, and underimplemented

    How do you wildly underhype something? (Or even wildly underutilize or underimplement.) Does it involve caffeinated valium?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 17, 2004 @09:48AM (#9724910)
    SUN started in the 1980s as a Unix workstation vendor. They were very successful because, for a Unix vendor they were pretty cheap. Unfortunately for SUN, the PC was cheaper and progressed much faster than anyone in the 80s or early 90s could have imagined, and surpassed the SUN workstations while remaining much cheaper. Although SUN still has a pretty good presence in High-End computing, the market there was never really that big (apart from the fluke during the dot-com boom).
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 17, 2004 @10:00AM (#9724950)
      The PC was just a wound, it is Sun itself which is killing Sun. More acuratly it is the Sun directors which are causing harm. Watching Sun is like watching a schizophrenic. Do they hate Linux or love Linux this week? Do they love Java or hate Jav this week? Will they dilute the Java brand name with some other half assed project only tangebly connected with Java or will they hype up some new super-cool Java feature? Will they hate Microsoft or be in bed with them this week? Will they, won't they? Yes, no?

      It would be unfair to say that Sun don't have any direction. They do; but it involves thousands of twists and u-turns and someone keeps changing the map.
      • by chromatic ( 9471 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @11:18AM (#9725305) Homepage

        I wrote a little program to generate Sun's strategy. Here's what they're doing today:

        • Sparc works on the desktop.
        • Java belongs on servers.
        • Linux means nothing to us.
        • Solaris should be open source.

        Next month, it'll be:

        • Sparc will never be open source.
        • Solaris works on the desktop.
        • Java means nothing to us.
        • Linux should be open source.

        (I realize that half of those statements make no sense. That's how you know it's working.)

    • by perlchild ( 582235 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @10:05AM (#9724974)
      Going back several years, there's a lot more Sun Workstations that were used as servers than anyone at Sun cares to admit. That market got absorbed by the i386 linux market, that's why they bought Cobalt, they were trying to recuperate some customers(but customers who wouldn't admit they every bought Suns...)
      • There is a use for Sun Workstations apart from being a server?

        I'm only partially trolling with that - I'm no IT person, but I've been in a great many places with a great many Sun Workstations, and can count the number of times I've seen someone sitting at one of them actually working on one or two hands.
        • Many Network Management workstations were Sun boxes. People did in fact sit at them.

          Timeview, used to manage Timeplex's T1/T3 Multiplexers, comes to mind. And Cabletron had a product called Spectrum, used to manage their hubs, or whatever other stuff you were running, also ran on solaris on Sparc.

        • I'm only partially trolling with that - I'm no IT person, but I've been in a great many places with a great many Sun Workstations, and can count the number of times I've seen someone sitting at one of them actually working on one or two hands.

          It depends on how you want to define "server". I always found that in the *nix world, the distinction was rather arbitrary. And that was a technical plus. But sometimes a political negative.

          I used to admin a Unix lab in a major US Government research facilit

    • > the PC was cheaper and progressed much faster than anyone in the 80s or early 90s could have imagined,

      As obvious as this is today, I think just about EVERYONE in the computer industry underestimated the decendants of the IBM PC 5150. If you look at the PC today, it is hard to believe that it's direct ancestor, the IBM PC, was barely more powerful than the Commodore 64.
  • by deanj ( 519759 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @09:49AM (#9724914)
    The new numbers for the latest quarter are coming out soon, so we'll have more to go on then.

    I do find it a little distrubing that I'm even saying something like that.... The short term mentality for success is putting a lot of un-needed pressure on companies.

    Anyway, like a previous poster said, this is the quarterly, "Oh, Sun's gonna die soon" thread. Don't believe it.

    Look at SGI. They were going great during the early nineties and had their legs cut out from under 'em when the ATI/NVidia wars started and people realized they didn't need to buy those mondo-expensive graphics systems anymore.

    Yet, they're still alive. Barely, but they're still alive.

    It takes a lot to kill a company, and Sun's not going anywhere anytime soon. They have $7 BILLION in cash in the bank right now, have a strong R&D budget.

    They're not going anywhere. Either is McNealy.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      It takes a lot to kill a company, and Sun's not going anywhere anytime soon. They have $7 BILLION in cash in the bank right now, have a strong R&D budget.

      They're not going anywhere. Either is McNealy.


      And project looking glass [sun.com] looks really awesome for those who haven't seen it, it's a 3D gui that sits on top of Solaris or Linux and adds a lot more functionality. I'm not sure how they will 3.Profit off of it, but it's pretty badass.
      • by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @12:36PM (#9725659) Journal
        What does looking glass DO. I seen the demo and am totally unimpressed. That CD catalog thing was just sad. Oh wow, I can see the pictures of the cd's I got in some kind of weird layout. Yeah that will show winamp. Music playing on the pc is background noise, just create a long playlist and play. Real audio fans would recoil in horror at the idea of listening to audio from a soundcard.

        As for browsing music there got to be a better interface then this. I would be far more impressed with a player that can browse by mood, instruments used (In the mood for some sax right now :P) etc etc. An interface that allows me to browse cd covers on my desktop is not needed. I got the cd's, I can browse them just fine in the physical world.

        The organising of windows too seemed just to be little tricks and gadgets, it been tried before and people just don't use it after the novelty wears off.

        There should be a better way to organize your desktop but I seen to many of these "fancy badass" things in my past to hold out much hope. The current desktop been around a long long time and while horrible if it gets occupied I don't see this helping any. Just look at the space taken up by just 5 windows "shaded".

        So exactly what functionaty does it give?

    • by ansible ( 9585 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @10:09AM (#9724991) Journal

      They have $7 BILLION in cash in the bank right now, have a strong R&D budget.

      Take a look at their P&L's. Seven billion doesn't last that long with a company that size if you're not making money.

      They're not going anywhere. Either is McNealy.

      That's exactly the problem, if you read the article. I hope some of that new research on running multiple tasks simultaneously works out for them.

      However, I think a billion spent on cluster computing would be a better bet. I think they were going in the right direction with the hot desktop switching. They just need to take it to the next level. A PC is more than a screen and a keyboard+mouse.

      We have scanners, CD burners, webcams, and all kinds of other peripherals we want to use. Give me all that, and give me reliable access to my applications (office, ERP, calendars, development tools, etc. served off off a big fault-tolerant cluster) and now you're talking.

      • Take a look at their P&L's. Seven billion doesn't last that long with a company that size if you're not making money.

        You're clearly not an accountant then. Cashflow and profit (or in Sun's case, loss) are different things. In my opinion, Sun's problem lies in converting their wealth of vision into reality at the consulting level. Here in Australia they seem to be desperate for consulting revenue, but can't provide great consultants to back up the great vision that issues forth from Menlo Park's EB
      • Exactly. The funny thing is that Sun R&D already has research versions of WAN Ray's, software only SunRays, and the SunRay Server running on Linux. Since they have not only developed these things, but leaked them to the general public (and quite some time ago at that), I bet R&D already has prototypes of CD burners, webcams, etc... After all, current SunRays have USB. There is no reason why they couldn't move forward on this.

        It is very puzzling. Sun is smart enough to see the promise in this t
    • I do find it a little distrubing that I'm even saying something like that.... The short term mentality for success is putting a lot of un-needed pressure on companies.

      As a stockholder for the past four years [yahoo.com] - I say it is not just the day traders they should be afraid of... I let my geek side stop me from dumping them because I wanted to believe they could turn things around. These guys needed a solid plan (and stuck with it rather than changing every week) - and the buck stops at McNealy.

      Yah, I'm not
    • by xyote ( 598794 )
      the entire tech economy is in a race for the bottom. All the companies are living off of their seed grain because they're waiting for someone else to make the first move. McNealy should be right because long term thinking should be the best strategy. But even 7 billion may not be enough to tough it out. Even Microsoft is getting worried and it has 30 billion or so.
      • Even Microsoft is getting worried and it has 30 billion or so.

        Why should Microsoft be worried? Unlike Sun, Microsoft is still raking in profits, so their huge pile of cash is still growing rapidly every year.

        Linux is deflating Microsoft's server prospects, but not the desktop. The desktop UI improvements in Linux have been offset by the stability and performance improvements in Windows.

        As a longtime Linux user (including on my desktop at work) I hate to say it but linux has plateaued. It's about a

    • It takes a lot to kill a company, and Sun's not going anywhere anytime soon. They have $7 BILLION in cash in the bank right now, have a strong R&D budget.

      If nothing else, their cash may make them an attractive acquisition target. That is how big companies die...

  • by HBI ( 604924 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @09:55AM (#9724932) Journal
    It makes some broad brush statements about Java facilitating sales of Sun's big boxes. This just isn't so. Java had nothing to do with it. There was a time, early on in the commercialization of the Internet, that you bought Sun if you wanted a reliable web server. That's what sold Sun boxes. This is long over, however.

    IBM Global Services pulled the plug on its Sun hosting somewhere around June 2001 - that was the first sign of things to come. A whole side of a huge server room populated with disconnected Sun boxes waiting for collection and ultimate resale, i'm sure. Did not bode well for Sun.

    The Army is not using Sun boxes for critical systems anymore - the last dozen-odd projects I have seen have been Win32 or even Linux in basis. Lots of junk Sun equipment floating around, whether on Ebay or in storage closets.

    The company is ultimately dead unless it reinvents itself - that is true enough. Saying that Java or R&D expenditures have anything to do with it is sophistry. The elimination of the value added associated with Sun's gear in real world applications is the reason why the company (as currently constituted) is doomed. There's just not enough difference between what they offer and what is offered for a much lower price point by other vendors.

    They do have many quarters worth of cash to lose, of course. It isn't going to happen tomorrow, but they are rapidly becoming irrelevant, even if they still exist.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 17, 2004 @11:58AM (#9725475)
      "IBM Global Services pulled the plug on its Sun hosting somewhere around June 2001"

      Are you just pulling this stuff out of your ass? I work for Sun, deal with IGS on a regular basis, and they are bigtime Sun *fans*. Blows me away every time I talk to them. The number one deployment platform for IBM software such as DB2 and Websphere remains... Sun.

      "The Army is not using Sun boxes for critical systems anymore"

      Again, where are you getting this?
  • by Beast in Black ( 781819 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @10:05AM (#9724970)
    ...does this mean that when Sun actually dies, it will turn into a black hole and suck all the other silicon valley companies down? It sure is massive enough :)
  • Sun's future (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Kohath ( 38547 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @10:17AM (#9725023)
    Sun will ultimately go out of business if none of their new projects is a big success.

    But they have A LOT of innovative new projects and they have the money, time, and culture to start a lot more. Betting against all of them seems unwise.
  • solaris not on x86? (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The article says :"McNealy admits that his biggest regret is "not putting Solaris on [Intel's chips] six or seven years ago." "

    but IIRC, Solaris x86 was around in the mid-nineties or even earlier...
  • by mqRakkis ( 521550 ) <[rnurminen] [at] [gmail.com]> on Saturday July 17, 2004 @10:33AM (#9725108) Homepage
    In related news (for real), Sun's COO Jonathon Schwartz has just recently started his blog [sun.com].
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 17, 2004 @10:48AM (#9725186)
    The first thing I'd do is jump into bed with Microsoft.

    Even though I prefer to work with Linux, when it comes to serious back end and database processing, Big UNIX Iron is still the way to go. Linux owns the front end as far as I'm concerned, and will probably be eating Sun's, HP's and IBM's lunch in the back end in a couple of years. Given IBM's investment in Linux, they obviously know that as well.

    Apparently even Microsoft can read the writing on the wall, because they're integrating SFU (Windows Services for UNIX) into Longhorn. But SFU is crap.

    Make me CEO of Sun and I will make my junior execs do whatever it took to get Microsoft to integrate Solaris into Windows 2008. In the meantime, I will be delivering an interim product: SSFW - Solaris Services for Windows. I will probably have to sell my junior execs' souls to Bill, but I'll have Windows source code to get the job done.

    Honestly, I don't understand the appeal of Windows. But it is undeniable... Lemmings.

    I envision millions of Windows servers reliably and securely running native UNIX/Linux software side-by-side with the Windows applications that have made choosing Microsoft so easy. I see my developers sitting in Redmond cubes and Microsoft developers sitting in my bay area cubes.

    With Solaris integrated into the Professional, Server, Enterprise and Data Center versions -- everything except Home Edition -- I won't charge much in the way of royalties. Single digit percentages of the MSRP will bring in vast revenues to Sun.

    In return for helping Microsoft shut out HP and IBM, Bill will be obliged to help create a Solaris management user interface look and feel that mimics Windows. The next generation of sys admins will feel just as at-home on Solaris as they do on Windows.

    Oh, and once a year Steve Ballmer has to come down to Mountain View and dance around screaming "DEVELOPERS, DEVELOPERS, DEVELOPERS!". After all, Steve gets it!

    s/ Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Microsoft.
  • by DrDebug ( 10230 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @10:52AM (#9725209) Journal
    The company I came to work for in 1994 was a training partner with SUN. We taught SUN classes; system admin, maintenance, some programming, etc. In 1995 Java came on the scene and we ramped up to teach that too. The demand for SUN instruction boomed so much we eventually branched out into 8 other locations around the country and the money was just pouring in. We almost had to beat back excess students with a stick. SUN also had their own training centers, but we (along with other training partners) got a lot of the overflow, or students who couldn't travel to SUN sites. (SUN did certify us as qualified instructors, if you must ask, and we often travelled to teach in their centers).

    When the dot-com bust came, it came hard on training. Nobody wanted to learn any more. Most all of the training partners folded, and SUN absorbed a few of the more profitable ones for itself. Eventually, SUN divested itself of the education part and sold it off to a 3rd party named Accenture, while keeping only 3 centers for themselves (San Jose, Broomfield CO, and Burlington MA). Accenture has many of the other former SUN sites, and there are still a few struggling and starving training partners waiting for an upturn.

    The demand for training is ever so slowly and painfully rising, about as fast as SUN's fortunes are now. But the heyday of the late '90s is long gone. And most of the instructors I personally knew were either released or they quit. These were some mighty bright people, too-- it was hard to see them go.

    My outlook is wait and see. I myself am hibernating while teaching at a local technical college. Maybe things will get better, maybe they won't. Time will tell.

    • When the dot-com bust came, it came hard on training. Nobody wanted to learn any more.

      Well, I guess that's one explanation. Another is that the "training" was never all that useful, and certainly not worth the money people were throwing at it during the 90's. Really good programmers/sysadmins/other don't come out of vendor training programs, they come from on-the-job experience. The idea that you can sit in a classroom for a week (after forking over a couple of grand) and end up with subject matter experti

  • Opportunistic (Score:5, Insightful)

    by KernelHappy ( 517524 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @10:59AM (#9725233) Homepage
    I was once told by someone in the top three executive tiers at Sun that they are an opportunistic company, meaning that they see a trend and jump on it. I didn't quite realize how true this was or more specifically how dangerous it was until it sank in. If you look back, they jumped on the band wagon catering to databases, then the jumped on webserver train, then they tried jumping on the low cost linux server trail, then they jumped in the Office Suite cubicle and finally grabbed onto the OSS bandwagon, each time spending more money for less or no profit. There has not been a concise vision or plan for this company for quite some time and they're paying for it now.

    Unfortunately for Sun, they're not innovators and there are no current trends directly in their area for them to latch on to. Unfortunatley in lean times you need to either a) innovate and create new markets or b) produce commodity items cheaper. Neither of these things are congruent to Scott's vision or Sun's current form.

    Even if Scott was to step down, what do you do with Sun? Java is not going to make it any money as a product, their in house developers are terrible and IBM has pretty much gobbled up large enterprise development market, Microsoft, agreement or not, is always looming in the corner looking to spank McNealy. If McNealy was smarter, he would have tried to be a visionary by latching onto biotech or something, developing other hardware that would leveraged his existing product base and created a reason to use his products over someone elses. But again, not innovators, regardless of how much they complain about Microsoft stiffling innovation.

    Ultimately, Sun isn't quite a ship headed towards an iceberg, nor is it headed toward land. It's just circling in the middle of no where waiting for a volcano to build an island in its path.

    Every ship needs to refuel at some point.
    • Re:Opportunistic (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Decaff ( 42676 )
      Unfortunately for Sun, they're not innovators and there are no current trends directly in their area for them to latch on to.

      Sun have always been innovators. They were the main drivers for Unix Workstations in the 1980s, they pioneered GUIs for Unix. They helped push 'open systems' in which different OS providers wrote to common APIs. They pioneered donating APIs to the community to assist with market growth (NFS is a good example). They were one of the first users of RISC. They helped make binary po
  • Easy (Score:4, Interesting)

    by iamacat ( 583406 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @11:00AM (#9725237)
    Distribute all the cash and sales proceeds from their stuff to the employees and shareholders and then just close down. Then people can get back together and do something more promising. Why let good money go to waste.

    Most computers are workstations and Sun's workstations have no chance against Dell. Apple is a "higher-quality" niche player, spends good money on R&D and has a good head start. What is Sun going to offer to get even 1% of the market?

    Now the problem is that people want servers to be extensions of their workstations, not something totally different. Same UI for management, interoperable applications from the same vendors, one place to call for support and so on. Windows-based servers and to some degree XServe fit this model well. I wonder how Sun will address this problem. Even IBM better make sure that their Linux servers remain cheaper/more stable than Windows. You know, you could just run Apache on Win server and firewall everything except port 80. Instant security! I am sure Linux is currently better at multitasking/SMP but on the other hand driver support sucks (want to do some server-side rendering using your ATI video card?) and Microsoft will not sit still forever on performance.
  • Strategic alliances (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 17, 2004 @11:31AM (#9725353)
    One thing I don't get about Sun is how they operate in the PC market. They got the high end, workstation market nailed down during the Internet boom, but one would realize quickly that Sun would need a strategy to deal with the PC market. PC performances approach much faster to what a workstation is supposed to be a few years ago than workstation performances do to the next level at fractions of the cost. It should have been done a long time ago. Not seeing that is pretty myopic of McNeal, I'd say.

    Not only that McNeal failed to make good strategic alliances. He is too preoccupied with Microsoft. Does anyone here realize that when a company is preoccupied with MS, they lose? One loses the focus one needs to innovate and instead, tries to survive by cutting costs something the likes of Microsoft and Dell can easily deal with since they have the volume. I thought a long time ago that Apple and Sun should have made great partners since some of their philosophies were similar. But, as much as McNealy hates Gates, he views Apple-Sun alliance as cumbersome. Notice how Sun release JVM for Wintel and not for Mac OS X? Star Office for Wintel and not for Mac OS X? You'd think that when you are threatened by microsoft, you'd need as many friends as you can gather.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday July 17, 2004 @11:37AM (#9725377)
    I'm an employee of Sun, been so for all of the 90's and still going strong. Alot of the young people in the Industry are young high flying jump to the latest high tech startup. You think nothing of 3-4 jobs over 8 years. When you are young, you are after the big score. Some get lucky, make good contacts become high flying consultants, others like me just chug away doing our best for our employeer.

    I was there when the stock quadrupled in value, split and quadrupled again and split again. I even made some money along the way. Some of our machines were big hits and we helped change the industry, if not the world in sorts.

    I was also there for the big turnaround, When we, the design engineers didnt' deliver such hot products as we did in the mid 90's. There is a lot that contributed to that, but I won't go into my opinions on the matter.

    I just want to say when the economy and market turned vicious on us, McNealy stood up and said "look, you guys invested alot of time in this company and brought us to where we were. Now we're here, the market isn't right, you guys have developed the best machines you could, but the market isn't right. But I'm not going to let you sit there and cry. Sun's invested alot in you, Sun's invested alot in R&D. Sun's going to protect it's investment in you and protect it's investment in R&D. You are Sun's richest resource and R&D is our future. We have umpty ump billions in the cash and we can hold out and forge ahead with no layoffs and continue our R&D".

    That was before the first RIF 3 years ago. Since then Sun has had 5 RIFS and I can attest that every RIF'ed employee over that time, was RIF'ed grudgingly. Every project that was cancelled -- was done so because our executive management felt it wasn't going to meet the market demand or window. And I've no reason to doubt them. I didn't doubt them when we where high flying, and I'm not going to when times are tough.

    Management that recognizes that I've made investments in them, as well as they've made investments in me and treat me like an asset -- is the type of management I want to work for.

    So eat your hearts out. I work for a CEO that smart and daring and willing to take risks and make good gambles, while at the same time doing his darned best that I have a job with good benefits and strong and healthy corporate culture.

  • by imnoteddy ( 568836 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @11:44AM (#9725410)
    In many ways the SPARC is technically better than the x86. Unfourtunately for Sun they don't (and never could) have the sheer volume of silicon coming out of the fabs to compete with Intel. Intel can invest huge amounts of money in design and spread the cost over many more chips. Sun's SPARC strategy was doomed.

    HP recognized that they couldn't play the custom processor game and teamed up with Intel for what is now called Itanium, which has not turned out well for HP.

    It remains to be seen whether IBM's POWER series can survive. IBM, unlike Sun, can at least leverage their investment with other customers such as Apple and reportedly Microsoft's XBOX 2.

  • Sun *is* doomed (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Devil ( 16134 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @01:12PM (#9725838) Homepage

    Ultimately, Sun is doomed. It has carved itself out a niche between IBM's big-iron machines and Dell's cheap-iron ones, but the gap in which Sun lives is rapidly narrowing. Even Apple is taking sales away from them, and if that happens, you know you're in trouble. As for Java...well, it's a good language and portable, too, but the coming onslaught of .NET is only going to hurt Sun more.

    This means that Sun no longer has an edge it can use to drive a wedge between Dell, Microsoft, Apple and IBM, all of whom are rapidly closing in on it like a pack of wolves. Ultimately, Sun will go the way of Netscape (except that in Sun's case, it will be the rest of the industry crushing them instead of just MSFT). If they're smart, they'll open-source Java, because that's the only way I can think of for there to be something left of them once the company is gone.

  • "I am fighting with our government to allow H1B visas [ieeeusa.org] cap to be raised. I was in at the White House talking to the chief of staff to get the H1B visa cap raised. We already half way through the fiscal year, capped out on the number of really bright Israelis and Indians."

    -- Scott McNeally September 2000 [sun.com] after the dot-con implosion was already in full swing.

  • Sun Erie-Bucyrus? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by crovira ( 10242 ) on Saturday July 17, 2004 @01:22PM (#9725884) Homepage
    I'm just waiting for the inevitable comparison of a company that went higher and higher up-market until there was nowhere to go.

    In the meantime, the lower, broader-based competition ate their potential market by coming out with new competitively attactive, but not forward looking, product.

    So called innovators in computing are just commiditizers. The difference is that now the time gap between innovation, read profit, and commodity , read cheap-ass knock-off, is shrinking (which USED to be the purpose of a patent system.)

    Sun is not a viable company in the long term unless the do what Apple did and head in another direction.
  • SUN doesn't have a service provider arm or partnerships with network providers or management providers. Nor do they have a Gigundo systems management suite like Tivoli or CA or HPOpenview.

    Therefore they will fail.

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