The Layoffs Have Finally Hit Home

I have known Brian Croll and Tom Goguen for years-since the days when they were on the Solaris team at Sun Microsystems and I was a cub reporter who barely knew what Unix was.

I have known Brian Croll and Tom Goguen for years—since the days when they were on the Solaris team at Sun Microsystems and I was a cub reporter who barely knew what Unix was. We followed Suns dysfunctional relationship with Intel together and debated Suns ever-shifting positions on open-source software.

They were smart and loved their work, and when the two of them disappeared from Sun, I figured whoever hired them had a good chance to succeed. They turned up at Eazel, one of several companies devoted to making Linux easy to use. Eazels software, called Nautilus, is an elegant combination of file manager and browser that lets people collect different types of media from all over the Web. Microsoft talked about that approach for years but never did it.

So news of Eazels layoffs last month came as a surprise. It is hard to keep a secret in the open-source community, and reporters were tipped as Eazel was preparing to announce Nautilus 1.0. Croll claims the company had not made a final decision about the layoffs when reporters started calling, but had its back to the wall. Venture capitalists have now reversed what they told Eazel seven months ago—staff up in order to be first to market—and Eazel was running out of money.

To spare employees the pain of reading about their own layoffs in the newspaper, Eazel immediately cut half the company, including Goguen. Croll is now a marketing and business development department of one. Eazel hopes that OEM relationships with Red Hat, Dell and Sun will drive customers to its Web site to buy Nautilus services, which currently include online storage and a Linux software catalog, but the companys survival is not assured. It has not yet secured a second round of funding, and Croll thinks Nautilus needs a company behind it to thrive.

Layoffs are a favorite topic of discussion these days—whos laying people off, who just got laid off, how to lay people off, what to do if you get laid off, etc. Media stories about layoffs have replaced the "failure is a badge of honor" stories that were so popular last year—when the Nasdaq was at its height in March 2000 and people blithely job-hopped from dot-com to dot-com.

You could ask who got the better deal at Eazel. While Croll soldiers on alone, Goguen and his wife are traveling for two months in Europe. Also, Sun CEO Scott McNealy happened to drive by Eazel right after the layoffs and told Goguen to send him a resume.

Still, this current stock-market correction has all the discrimination of a meat ax. It is bringing down good companies along with the bad ones, and good people are losing their jobs across the high-tech landscape. If these are the consequences of a return to normality, then that bubble was really oversized.