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Sun Microsystems Businesses Operating Systems Software Unix Hardware

After the Sun (Microsystems) Sets, the Real Stories Come Out 166

Tekla Perry (3034735) writes "Former Sun executives and employees gathered in Mountain View, Calif., in May, and out came the 'real' stories. Andy Bechtolsheim reports that Steve Jobs wasn't the only one who set out to copy the Xerox Parc Alto; John Gage wonders why so many smart engineers couldn't figure out that it would have been better to buy tables instead of kneepads for the folks doing computer assembly; Vinod Khosla recalls the plan to 'rip-off Sun technology,' and more."
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After the Sun (Microsystems) Sets, the Real Stories Come Out

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  • Re:DRTFA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Spazmania ( 174582 ) on Saturday May 31, 2014 @04:31PM (#47137565) Homepage

    '' Alan Butler, employee number 530, who at age 18 was once Sunâ(TM)s youngest employee, mused somewhat wistfully: âoeWe should have charged $1 a seat for every Java licenseâ and that would have generated billions in cash annually, perhaps saving the company. âoe ''

    Fool. You'd have made about $300. With all of Java's other early problems, a price tag would have ended it before it could gain any momentum.

  • by theNAM666 ( 179776 ) on Saturday May 31, 2014 @04:38PM (#47137595)

    Roger Gregory tells a good story of making the first private (non-government entity) order from Sun as COO of Project Xanadu (XOC).

    In Palo Alto, Roger hears of the Sun 1 via word-of-mouth and trade journals, raises the cash, fills out the form and sends in his order. And invoice comes back, with instructions to pay via bank (wire) transfer and an estimated delivery date.

    About a month after the date, Roger and others are eagerly awaiting the machine, which has not arrived.

    Roger gets on the phone and calls the number for Sun in Berkeley. Bill Joy answers the phone and, after some back-and-forth, says he will need to transfer Roger to the “accounting department.”

    Bill sets down the phone and it becomes clear to Roger, who can hear the background noise, that Sun likely only has *one* phone line at this point. Shortly, Vinod Khosla picks up the phone with a "Hey, Roger!"

    After about three minutes of chat, Vinod explains “Oh! We were wondering where that $40,000 in our account came from!” and promises to get the machine to XOC ASAP.

    The Sun 1 shows up at XOC’s offices about two weeks later, as I remember. The machine is still in Roger’s basement last I knew.

    We attached it to the Internet and ran a simple webserver for a short period in mid-’99 or so. Around that time, Bill stopped by for breakfast and offered a six-figure sum to buy the machine back, which Roger declined.

  • Re:DRTFA (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mooingyak ( 720677 ) on Saturday May 31, 2014 @04:54PM (#47137695)

    Alan Butler, employee number 530, who at age 18 was once Sun’s youngest employee, mused somewhat wistfully: “We should have charged $1 a seat for every Java license” and that would have generated billions in cash annually, perhaps saving the company.

    Fool. You'd have made about $300. With all of Java's other early problems, a price tag would have ended it before it could gain any momentum.

    Pretty much the same thought I had -- I was wondering what technology would occupy java's current space if they had done that.

  • Re:DRTFA (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday May 31, 2014 @05:48PM (#47137957)

    Fool. You'd have made about $300. With all of Java's other early problems, a price tag would have ended it before it could gain any momentum.

    It's quite likely exactly this thinking that played a big part in killing Sun. They always made massive contributions and then screwed up saying something stupid against open source. Even with some of the most major FOSS packages coming from Sun they often achieved an image as a big corporate ant-freedom group. Microsoft, which is actively working to destroy open source all the time often comes across better. Look at the way they carefully licensed ZFS so it didn't go into Linux. Look at how they completely failed to get OpenSolaris to take off. A real shame.

  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Saturday May 31, 2014 @06:21PM (#47138143) Homepage Journal
    There was a guy one cube over who apparently did nothing other than talk on the phone all day about how he was a certified process black belt. It took a 12 page form, including your diffs, to unlock version control for a check in. And the project I was on did all their user authentication (in java) using static classes, because they didn't want to be bothered with instantiating classes. Worked great until two users tried to log in at the same time.

    Shortly after the user authentication problem I got stuck behind a group of their engineers walking to the cafeteria, having a loud discussion about the poor quality of the Linux kernel code. Having just seen some of the coding going in in Sun, it was pretty hard not to tell them scornfully that I'd seen Sun code and they didn't have any room to be talking about anyone else's. Admittedly our project was after Sun was hacking up blood. They sold a few months after I left.

    It was interesting to see the difference between IBM and Sun. IBM had process, but they didn't let it get in the way of their work. At IBM you always felt like someone actually knew the big picture and every product was made to be sold to customers. Sun had more of a underwear gnome business plan of making cool stuff and somehow money would magically appear.

  • by Greyfox ( 87712 ) on Saturday May 31, 2014 @11:39PM (#47139307) Homepage Journal
    Intel took all the workstation vendors by surprise, but it was their own fault. The prevailing attitude at IBM while they were doing OS/2 was that the PC was a toy and if you wanted to do REAL multitasking, you bought an AIX workstation at a minimum. They were convinced that Windows wasn't going to go far and were positioning OS/2 as a glorified terminal to their larger machines. And it was actually pretty damn good at that, but I digress.

    So there we are in 93 or 94, the 386 just taking off, OS/2 and Windows are still pretty much children's toys compared to UNIX and mainframe OSes, the only commercial Intel UNIX is $1200 for the base OS and the fuckers want another $1200 for a C compiler, you can take your chances with a bunch of BSD tapes and I'd just heard about this nifty new Linux thing coming on the scene.

    Almost overnight PCs weren't toys anymore and most of the UNIX workstation vendors are going down in flames. In the late '90's I attend a Linux con in Denver. SGI's there, and their marketroid is telling us their company's betting on Windows NT and storage solutions. I didn't have the heart to ask him why I should buy a storage solution from him when I could get one from IBM and know they'd still be there in 5 years. A few months later, SGI declared bankruptcy. Now my phone's more powerful than their old machines.

    Of all the old UNIX workstation vendors, I think IBM is the only one left. SGI's still around, of course, they have an office within walking distance of my house. Dunno what they do these days. At least those fuckers who wanted $1200 for a C compiler also went out of business. Damn I hated working with their UNIX. You couldn't wipe your ass without them wanting to charge you for it. That very first slakware distribution that I downloaded onto 26 floppies was better than anything they'd ever done.

  • Re:License Java (Score:4, Interesting)

    by dublin ( 31215 ) on Monday June 02, 2014 @04:38PM (#47149423) Homepage

    Like they say about people telling Woodstock stories, you obviously weren't there...

    I was at Sun doing market development in the healthcare and petroleum "verticals" when Java came out. I'm telling you, the interest was staggering. I once spoke on Java at a local JUNIOR college weekend CS/Internet interest forum to nearly a THOUSAND people, including top IT staff from NASA and all the major oil companies. I just broke the awesome oceangoing coffee mug they gave me about a year ago.

    I can tell you that although we all realized Java was a good implementation of some great ideas, we were pretty much taken aback with the Java frenzy that ensued, and quickly moved to leverage it for all it was worth. (With a couple of decades in the rearview mirror, it's easy to forget how revolutionary Java really was at the time, and how hungry the world was for what it offered - namely the most open cross-platform platform and programming environment anyone had ever seen. It didn't hurt that the Java wave lined up really nicely with the 64-bit UltraSPARC architecture's amazing price/performance.)

    It worked - Java was HUGE for both reestablishing Sun as a power player in technical and scientific computing, but also breaking into other lucrative markets we'd been frozen out of, including finance and healthcare - Before Java, Data General had far better name recognition than Sun - I literally met with a BIG heatlhcare CTO who's first question was, "So you're with Sun OIL?" He didn't even know there was a computer company called Sun. Shortly after, he was leading a transition to Sun hardware and software across his entire company. We got him hooked up with the right talent to integrate several critical Java-based products and he saved millions the first year, even after all the switching costs.

    Trust me, we could have sold Java seats, no problem, although being free certainly helped its popularity and stood out from other "enterprise-capable" languages. The big mistake was when the programmers took over and turned a great system focused on cross-platform results and networked computing into something that tried in vain to check every box on the academic CS geeks' wet dream list, and the simple but vital stuff (like say, nailing down a single place where one could expect to FIND a JVM/JRE of a particular version on any given OS platform, to name one example of thousands) fell by the wayside.

    Sadly, Java's never really recovered from the bloat it acquired in trying to be everything to everyone, but it did blaze the pathway for others, including what we called "Java with semicolons": the JavaScript that rules the web now and for the foreseeable future...

    Sun was an amazing company with amazing people doing amazingly innovative things (NFS, YP/NIS/NIS+, Java, same binary desktop-to-supercomputer with transparent 64-bit support (compare Sun's 64-bit transition to IBM/HP/DEC's 64-bit cluster foxtrots - Sun's thinking here continues to fuel the current ARM revolution). There were some stinkers, but overall , we'd all be better off with Sun's innovation still pushing things forward. In a lot of ways, Sun was a better Apple than Apple when it came to "doing it right", especially back in the Java days, when we passed on actually buying Apple...

Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced -- even a proverb is no proverb to you till your life has illustrated it. -- John Keats