Zander: Sun Still Riding Right Track

Sun Microsystems Inc.'s outgoing chief operating officer and president, Ed Zander, said he decided to leave Sun partly because his chances of becoming CEO were slim.

Sun Microsystems Inc.s outgoing chief operating officer and president, Ed Zander, said he decided to leave Sun partly because his chances of becoming CEO were slim.

In a candid interview at Suns offices here last week, Zander, a 15-year Sun veteran, said that after three or four years of doing a job, "you hope to get more challenged. And when youre COO and president, theres only one other job you can get, and I knew [CEO] Scott [McNealy] was committed to Sun for a long time."

Sun announced early this month that Zander will leave the company in July.

"It was a natural thing to move on, as this was the last job for me at Sun, unless Scott got hit by a truck—and he didnt intend to get hit by a truck," Zander said.

Despite his imminent departure and other executive management shuffles at Sun, Zander said he is confident that the company is in capable hands. "The new incoming team is as strong as the team in place today," Zander said, adding that he had worked hard at developing people capable of taking over his and other roles.

"Nobody likes change, and its unfortunate that a few of us decided to leave at the same time," Zander said. "But our fiscal year starts on July 1, and we feel we have the company back on the road to profitability. I think Sun will be in good shape."

Michael Dortch, an analyst at Robert Frances Group Inc., in San Francisco, agreed, saying McNealy is a strong and respected leader and will continue to drive the company.

Zander lashed out at customers and partners who have criticized Suns Linux strategy as being too little too late and offering nothing new, saying Linux has achieved no significant market share. And it remains to be seen whether Linux can scale into the mission-critical enterprise area, he said. Most Linux wins are replacements for Windows NT systems that are full of viruses, which need constant re-boots and were too hard to administer, he said.

"We think Linux is a great low-end play in the edge computing market, and the product we bring out this summer will catapult us into the lead," Zander said.

That being said, most of Suns research and development still will go to Solaris. "Make no mistake, were not going to go backward and invest all in Linux," Zander said.

Some customers, however, disagree with that strategy. Alan DuBoff, CEO of Software Orchestration Inc., of San Jose, Calif., said Sun has not announced any compelling Linux solutions. "I would rather see Sun provide Solaris running on low-end Intel [Corp.] commodity hardware since they have an excellent product in the form of Solaris X86," DuBoff said.

Responding to claims that Sun focused on Linux at the low end at the expense of Solaris on the Intel architecture, Zander said that was not Suns call.

"Solaris Intel is there. If Intel wants it, well be glad to give it to them and commercialize it," Zander said. "If the user community wants to form a company or get Intel, Dell [Computer Corp.], Compaq [Computer Corp.], IBM or [Hewlett-Packard Co.] involved, they can call me, and well do it. We think its a great product, but we just dont sell general-purpose Intel machines."

Bruce Riddle, an IT contractor at Agere Systems Inc., a large Sun shop in Allentown, Pa., said Sun has never pushed the Intel Solaris solution since it competed with its low-end Solaris SPARC offering. "The demand for an Intel offering is there, Sun just chose to never promote or market it," Riddle said.

Zander declined to say what his career plans were. "Youve got to let yourself decompress and think about if you want to do all this again," he said.