Sun Is Striving for Its Own Identity

By John Taschek  |  Posted 2002-04-01 Print this article Print

Is Sun a hardware company? A software company? A network computer company?

The Javaone Show, held last week, began life as a technical gathering and quickly evolved into a forum for chest thumping, top 10 lists and chants that Sun was the king of the world. It finally settled into a nice balance between technology demonstrations and marketing, which still puts it way ahead of most computer shows—if theyre still around, that is.

Prior to the conference, Sun talked a lot about J2EE 1.4; defended its laggardly approach to adopting new Web standards, such as SOAP; and, as usual, attacked Microsofts .Net and Passport. Just weeks ago, Sun launched a billion-dollar lawsuit against Microsoft and separately announced a six-step program, known as Sun ONE Network Identity, that enables organizations to define how they can identify and authenticate users on distributed networks (

This is appropriate, since identity is a huge part of authentication (Im understating). But its also ironic, since Sun itself has had an identity crisis ever since Java got popular. Is Sun a hardware company? A software company? A network computer company? Is it supporting Intel chips? Is it going into the litigation business?

No one knows for sure, indicating that Suns customers probably dont know, either. The most senior people at Sun believe it is an engineering company. Ask the customers, however, and their opinion differs. Take the response to my March 25 column (see on the billion-dollar lawsuit.

"If Sun had a great product, there wouldnt be a need for suing. I equate their tactic to retaliation ..." said an employee of a large appliance vendor.

For the record, almost no one who responded supported Suns lawsuit. Almost all, however, tweaked Sun or Microsoft in some capacity falling along their own party lines. Its a sad indictment of the industry when politics and litigation are placed at a higher priority than technology, though all three play a big part in the competitive landscape.

After berating Sun, the respondent went on to say, "If a company wants to compete with Microsoft, it is going to have to compete with Windows, .Net, Media Player, Internet Explorer, Xbox, etc. They cant just pick a particular piece of software."

Well, that pretty much narrows it down to zero.

Finally, another reader simply asked, "Why doesnt Sun quit while it is ahead?"

Ahead in what area? Servers, Web services, hype, litigation, operating systems or just plain old identification?

What does Sun mean to you? Im at

As the director of eWEEK Labs, John manages a staff that tests and analyzes a wide range of corporate technology products. He has been instrumental in expanding eWEEK Labs' analyses into actual user environments, and has continually engineered the Labs for accurate portrayal of true enterprise infrastructures. John also writes eWEEK's 'Wide Angle' column, which challenges readers interested in enterprise products and strategies to reconsider old assumptions and think about existing IT problems in new ways. Prior to his tenure at eWEEK, which started in 1994, Taschek headed up the performance testing lab at PC/Computing magazine (now called Smart Business). Taschek got his start in IT in Washington D.C., holding various technical positions at the National Alliance of Business and the Department of Housing and Urban Development. There, he and his colleagues assisted the government office with integrating the Windows desktop operating system with HUD's legacy mainframe and mid-range servers.

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