Thursday, February 24, 2022

It Was 40 Years Ago Today

Sun Microsystems was founded 24th February 1982, and died 27th January 2010. I spent 1982 on sabbatical in Amsterdam waiting for the Sun/1 we had ordered to show up. IIRC I visited their initial offices on Walsh Ave. in Santa Clara in early 1983, and joined the company in September 1985. I owe Sun, and the people who worked there, a debt of gratitude I could never repay.

In those early days Sun was an extraordinarily interesting company to work for, and throughout its 28-year history it spawned an incredible number of other startups. One of them was Nvidia, which is currently the 8th most valuable company in the world, but there are far too many others to list.

In It Isn't About The Technology I wrote:
In the late 80s I foresaw a bleak future for Sun Microsystems. Its profits were based on two key pieces of intellectual property, the SPARC architecture and the Solaris operating system. In each case they had a competitor (Intel and Microsoft) whose strategy was to make owning that kind of IP too expensive for Sun to compete. I came up with a strategy for Sun to undergo a radical transformation into something analogous to a combination of Canonical and an App Store. I spent years promoting and prototyping this idea within Sun.

One of the reasons I have great respect for Scott McNealy is that he gave me, an engineer talking about business, a very fair hearing before rejecting the idea, saying "Its too risky to do with a Fortune 100 company". Another way of saying this is "too big to pivot to a new, more “sustainable” business model".
In the terms that Wall St. imposes on public companies, Scott was right and I was wrong. In the 8 years or so from my talk to the dot-com crash SUNW made the stockholders an incredible amount of money. But then the money stopped, in some ways for the reasons I had spotted. Being right too soon is as bad as being wrong.

1 comment:

David. said...

Tom Lyon, Sun employee #8, tweeted a thread about joining Sun.