Sun Is Striving for Its Own Identity

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