Sun Setting, Not Rising?

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@ziffdavis.com.