McNealy's Biggest Mistake
"It was OK that we closed SunOS in the deal with AT&T and made it non-proprietary. But the problem we raised was we didn't metal-wrap Solaris x86. We canceled it about 12 times in the press. My big mistake was, I thought that if we did software only that people would adopt it. What I didn't realize was that they were terrified of us as a hardware supplier, so they weren't going to do [use] our OS.
"If we had just grabbed the Intel Pentium chip and done a one-way and two-way pizza box with Solaris on it, Linux never would have happened. And we would have hit that whole next wave that was post-2000 and we would have had all the little startups.
"Google today would be running on Solaris if we hadn't messed that one up. That's the one big mulligan," McNealy said.
Zander said no one was more surprised than the Sun leadership that the Java Web development language took off like it did in the mid-1990s. But Java reached the market in the midst of the explosive expansion of the Internet when developers were looking for new tools to rapidly build sophisticated new online applications.
"Java was passed around inside the company for many years, trying to find a place and an application. It would always come up as an expense, and no matter who was in the room, somebody would always say 'Let's kill it,'" Zander said. "When it was introduced at Moscone Center [at a 1995 press conference] as part of our new network suite, it was like third or fourth on the press release list, this little language called Java. But it hit it."
McNealy said the decisive factor for Java's success was "we were able to hook Java runtime onto the free, open source Netscape browser. And it was a collision of two things that accelerated and launched each other together. It was fascinatingly lucky timing for both companies."
Since the Oracle buyout, McNealy retreated at
least for the time being from the magnifying glass of shareholders, the
media, analysts, government regulators and industry competitors. He
playing golf and hockey, watching his four boys grow up, advising young
companies (Hardcore Computer, EMC Greenplum, Curriki.org) and starting
a soon-to-be-introduced software company.
Zander also is advising new companies and serving on a few boards of directors.