Sun Setting, Not Rising?

By Stan Gibson  |  Posted 2002-06-03 Print this article Print

Scott McNealy appears to be starring in a B-movie sequel.

When you watch something long enough, patterns emerge. When you watch something a really long time, you start to think youre watching the sequel to a B movie.

Why is it that every time I hear Scott McNealy or listen to a Sun strategy pitch, I think its circa 1987, and Im listening to Ken Olsen and Digital Equipment execs? For some of you, this may be meaningless because youre not old enough to remember. Believe me, the parallels are there.

Digital (now HP) had a proprietary operating system, VMS (now called OpenVMS), and its own chip design, the VAX architecture (now Alpha). Sun has Solaris and SPARC. Digital contended its environment was open, just as Sun thinks its environment is open; most people think of them as proprietary.

For years, McNealy has been striving to get beyond this simple paradigm, to no avail. If you remember (you probably dont), Sun rode to success on the open system of Unix, which it tried to corner with the connivance of AT&T. Then Sun tried to create a clone market for the SPARC chip via companies such as Solbourne. Then McNealy tried to make Java VM into a computing platform that would usurp platform dominance from Windows.

Just as Olsen disparaged Unix while his company reluctantly sold it, so Sun is holding its nose while offering Linux products in its acquired Cobalt line.

And another thing: Many good people left Digital because they got bored. Gordon Bell and Dave Cutler come to mind. Sun lost Eric Schmidt several years ago and now Ed Zander.

Yes, theres a certain inevitability to it all, like waves hitting a beach. Speaking of beach, Scott, maybe its time. Like Ken Olsen, Scott McNealy may have stayed too long.

McNealy on the beach? Is that a reach? Tell me at

Stan Gibson is Executive Editor of eWEEK. In addition to taking part in Ziff Davis eSeminars and taking charge of special editorial projects, his columns and editorials appear regularly in both the print and online editions of eWEEK. He is chairman of eWEEK's Editorial Board, which received the 1999 Jesse H. Neal Award of the American Business Press. In ten years at eWEEK, Gibson has served eWEEK (formerly PC Week) as Executive Editor/eBiz Strategies, Deputy News Editor, Networking Editor, Assignment Editor and Department Editor. His Webcast program, 'Take Down,' appeared on He has appeared on many radio and television programs including TechTV, CNBC, PBS, WBZ-Boston, WEVD New York and New England Cable News. Gibson has appeared as keynoter at many conferences, including CAMP Expo, Society for Information Management, and the Technology Managers Forum. A 19-year veteran covering information technology, he was previously News Editor at Communications Week and was Software Editor and Systems Editor at Computerworld.

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