Suns McNealy: ITs Tragicomic Figure

Opinion: In the end, Scott McNealy could not wisecrack Sun out of the financial hole it has been in for the past five years.

In Scott McNealys own words, its time for Sun to call 1-800-CRL-ALT-DEL.

The landscape of IT history is littered with the carcasses of companies that tried to be the one that finally brought down Microsoft: Ray Noordas Novell, Jim Manzis Lotus and Philippe Kahns Borland (Larry Ellison and Oracle are still going strong).

But no one tried harder, or wanted it more, than McNealy. The Sun CEO and co-founder, who stepped away from his role today, made sticking it to Microsoft his personal Holy Grail.

And though he appears to be leaving with his head high, saying Suns "customers are probably happier with us than they have been in years," he exits without that one pelt he always wanted.

But its time for Sun to reboot, something McNealy made a great joke of whenever he talked about the instability of Windows and its famous restart key commands.

McNealy is one of the IT industrys true tragic figures. Tragic and comic, for what made McNealy so interesting to me was his sense of humor and his always-at-the-ready repertoire of witty put-downs of Microsoft, its products and its CEO.

/zimages/5/28571.gifRead more here about Sun Microsystems CEO McNealys decision to step down.

Two years ago when Sun and Microsoft settled their most recent Java lawsuit, which included a public truce of sorts, I wrote that you could see the end of McNealys reign when he couldnt make fun of "Latehorn" or the "giant hairball" that was Windows, or insult "Ballmer and Butthead" anymore. My favorite routines were always the Top 10 lists he delivered at keynote speeches.

Sun tried hard, and its vision and technology were largely superior to Microsofts, with Java, Solaris and the SPARC processor as its key weapons. But with its eye always on Redmond, Sun never seemed to be completely focused on what it was doing.

/zimages/5/28571.gifWas trading out CEO McNealy the right move for Sun, but carried out too late? Click here to read more.

The reality was the billions in shareholder value that vanished during McNealys tenure. Though there have been a few recent positive blips, for the most part the company has been on a downward financial spiral since it peaked in late 1999 and early 2000, and the company again lost money in the latest quarter, reported April 24, 2006.

Sun has a capable replacement for McNealy in rising star Jonathan Schwartz. And while Schwartz certainly wont replace the barbs, and their delivery, that McNealy made famous, he is a witty guy in his own right. But the company will never see the glory of the past unless drastic changes are made.

If Schwartz can pull it off, maybe he can be the one to win one for the Gipper.

eWEEK magazine editor Scot Petersen can be reached at

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Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen

Scot Petersen is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Prior to joining Ziff Brothers, Scot was the editorial director, Business Applications & Architecture,...