Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed


Forgot your password?
Sun Microsystems Censorship

Employee (Almost) Chronicles Sun's Top Ten Failures 194

Business and Open Source pundit Matt Asay picked up on a recent attempt by Sun's Dan Baigent to chronicle the ten largest failures that took the tech giant from a $200 billion peak valuation to the recent buyout by Oracle for a mere $7.4 billion. Unfortunately, Dan only made it to number three on his list before Sun pulled the plug. How long will it take corporate overlords until they finally realize that broad level censorship and trying to control the message are far more harmful than just becoming part of the discourse? "I find that I tend to learn much more from my failures than from my successes. I'd be grateful for the chance to learn from Sun's, too. Sun, please let Baigent continue his countdown. It allows Sun to constructively chronicle its own failings, rather than allowing others to do so in less generous terms."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Employee (Almost) Chronicles Sun's Top Ten Failures

Comments Filter:
  • Blame Marketing... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by NecroPuppy ( 222648 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @01:37PM (#27789877) Homepage

    It's rarely the engineers who screw things up like that.

    It's the suits who don't understand something and then write press releases / marketting material on their lack of understanding.

    I fondly remember my (then) boss at my first job out of university going, in one day, down to marketting to explain to them how they'd just killed a two million dollar product line because they couldn't be arsed to call first, and then down to HR to explain that they couldn't shorten a job listing to "five years programming experience in [2 year old web technology]" from "five years programming experience and one year in [2 year old web technology]".

    Of course, this was the same man who would go fishing in the middle of a lake (and cell dead zone) during every customer live date, so he didn't have to listen to them complain about the fonts or colors.

  • by assantisz ( 881107 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @01:51PM (#27790103)
    Apple, during those times before Jobs came back, that is. Look at the server line-up. Too many CPU options (AMD, Intel, UltraSPARC T line, UltraSPARC IV, SPARC64), too many OS options (Solaris, Linux, Windows), f'ed up renaming and branding attempts of Sun's software stack, very confusing model numbers/names for their servers, getting rid of the highly popular US-IIIi entry-level server line, etc. etc. I've been using Sun servers for a very long time and have been a proponent but the last couple years have been very frustrating with them. They never fixed the performance issue the online support site has, for example. I think Schwartz was not a good choice to lead Sun after McNealy left. There is one good thing that came out of Sun in the last couple years, though: open-sourcing of Solaris.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 01, 2009 @01:53PM (#27790139)

    I worked at Sun briefly. My office was across the corridor from a corner office CTO type. One day I overheard him ranting to someone, wondering 'why anyone would want to use Linux when they could be using Solaris -- that has everything -- instead.'

    I swear the guy was channeling Ken Olsen, when he said: "...the beauty of UNIX is it's simple, and the beauty of VMS is that it's all there."

  • by joib ( 70841 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @01:54PM (#27790159)

    Ironically, a couple of decades ago they were sitting there with literally the keys to the realm in their hands, and they threw them away. Back in the late 80's they introduced the Sun386i workstation, featuring (drumroll..) Intel's 386 processor and a 386 port of SunOS. This was a proper preemptive multitasking OS with 32-bit virtual memory and a decent GUI, far ahead of Windows 2.x at the time. Not only that, it also had a functioning DOS emulator, allowing the machine to run MS-DOS programs. By focusing on x86, and selling SunOS/x86 for $50 or so they could have become the Microsoft of today.

    But, they weren't interested in playing the massive volumes with razor thin margins game of the PC world, thinking that the unix workstation market was insulated from the PC market. After all, PC's were for chumps running 1-2-3 and Wordperfect. So they introduced their own hardware, SPARC, and discontinued SunOS/x86. Of course, as TFA says, they re-entered the x86 game in 2002, but by then it was too little, too late.

    The failure to see the cost effectiveness afforded by the massive volumes of x86 chips Intel was turning out is all the more damning considering the main reason they had become the dominant unix workstation vendor wasn't that their hardware or software was leagues ahead of their competitors, but rather that they were cheaper.

  • oops, My Bad (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ClosedSource ( 238333 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @01:57PM (#27790201)

    I just made the mistake I've been complaining about with others - it wasn't a prosecution because it wasn't a criminal case.

  • by downix ( 84795 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @02:10PM (#27790385) Homepage

    I remember in 1996 seeing a job posting requiring "5 years Java experience"... I wonder if it is the same job posting you are referring to.

  • Oh? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by immcintosh ( 1089551 ) <slashdot.ianmcintosh@org> on Friday May 01, 2009 @02:23PM (#27790569) Homepage

    How long will it take corporate overlords until they finally realize that broad level censorship and trying to control the message are far more harmful than just becoming part of the discourse?

    Apple begs to differ.

  • by rackserverdeals ( 1503561 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @02:28PM (#27790649) Homepage Journal

    Company leadership would like people to think that the company has no failures. Ridiculous, of course, but there you have it.

    I wonder if it has more to do with the sale to Oracle that has not been finalized.

    If you're selling your car, you don't want your wife coming out and telling the guy why you're getting rid of it before he hands you the cash.

    I have my own theories on why Sun had to sell [] and surprisingly it had to do with Notes.

  • by Brandybuck ( 704397 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @02:32PM (#27790721) Homepage Journal

    It's the nature of large organizations. Brandybuck's law states that the collective intelligence of an organization is inversely proportional to its size. That applies to chess clubs, corporations, and governments. The larger the company, the dumber they are.

    It's even been shown to be true via economic analysis. The top down control of a firm hinders the natural distribution of localized information. This affects all firms, but with small organizations it's just background noise. But above a certain size firms will become so bogged down in process that they cease to operate. Which is why large companies artificially divide themselves up into smaller semi-autonomous divisions. And why huge multinationals only exist only in an environment where government hands out special privileges and subsidies like candy. Leftists like to bitch about businesses running government, and the right about governments running businesses. But they're both the same thing, shielding businesses from the natural market mechanisms that would otherwise limit their size.

    Yeah, it's sad that Sun is squashing openness, and sad that they can't see it's ultimately bad for them. But you can't expect much else from a corporation of their size.

  • by Jason Levine ( 196982 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @02:32PM (#27790729) Homepage

    My own marketing story: I used to work for Windows Magazine. We were a pretty successful publication, or so we thought. One day, everyone was called into a meeting (never a good sign) by our corporate marketing department. They literally told us: "You guys have a great product. Wonderful writing and content. Phenomenal staff. But we don't know how to sell your magazine. So we're killing it." Yes, because *they* couldn't figure out what to do with *our* great content, *they* decided that we needed to be fired.

    Luckily, I survived that as the shut-down magazine went Dot-Com-only ( We figured we were pretty safe since we were the biggest traffic draw our company had. But then came an impromptu phone meeting (again, never a good sign) during which our corporate overlords told us that they had come to a decision. Instead of producing their own content, they would pull other people's content and show that. How successful were they? Well, when's the last time you visited Personally, I never visit it and even had to Google it to make sure I had the name right!

  • by Machtyn ( 759119 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @02:38PM (#27790833) Homepage Journal
    Sorry about making my response political, but your post reminds me of:

    I hate Bush, so I want the war in Iraq to fail.
    I hate Obama, so I want the economy to fail.

    It's the whole crab pulling the other down to prevent escape from certain death. Why is it so hard for people to grasp the concept of failure and death? If a company or system is failing, let it die, if the concept was good, it will be reborn. Let its mistakes be revealed so that we can all learn and grow from them. People will not be able to grow and improve if we all keep making the same mistakes over and over.

    History, it's not just a school topic.

    /me avoided from getting too philosophical about death, resurrection, etc... whew.
  • by anlprb ( 130123 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @03:13PM (#27791367)

    I still can't get Sun. They killed the product they would eventually try to use to save the company. They killed their current flagship product and then ran scared back to it when they found out their servers were being replaced by Linux on X86. How did they think they were going to justify a proprietary system (SPARC, Solaris) when there was a perfectly reasonable replacement at a great price point (Linux, X86)? Java is nice, but it won't get them far, and what else do they have? Really? Cloud computing and redundant NAS using COTS parts have eaten any lunch they had. Maybe they are just the most current buggy whip maker... I would hate to see them go, but at least any good parts of Sun are GPL'ed. Sorry to see you go, but maybe it's just time. []

  • by nabsltd ( 1313397 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @03:47PM (#27791767)

    Sparc failure. Maybe not exactly a failure. I know it's really great processor family. It has got potential. It's fast, multi-core, modern. Probably made them loose lots of money recently. What went wrong here?

    One problem is that the very latest SPARC chips ("CoolThreads") are outperformed on a per-core basis by the much cheaper Intel Core i7.

    A fairly nice 16-core Core i7 motherboard/CPUs/RAM config will cost around $1000. Sure, you'll have to add disks, a case to put it in, etc., but those costs are essentially the same regardless of what CPU architecture is being used. And, you can get the Intel system from a variety of vendors (HP, Dell, etc.).

    The SPARC version will cost closer to $4000 (tough to call, because you can't get the raw motherboard), and run at 1.4GHz instead of 2.66GHz.

    Then there's virtualization, which Sun uses to claim SPARC is lower cost because it comes free while you must pay $4000+ for x86 virtualization on an equivalent system. One problem with this claim is that SPARC only allows you to virtualize Solaris, while x86 virtualization allows you to virtualize Windows, BSD, Linux, etc. The second problem is that there are many free hypervisors for x86 that are as good as the one included with's only the enterprise-class easy-to-manage ones that cost money.

  • by bdh ( 96224 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @04:28PM (#27792283)

    In 1985, I'd spent about a year and a half doing contract PC work with various versions of Lattice C (2.0 bad, 2.01 better, 2.10 really bad, 2.11 bad, 2.12 good) and was looking for a new contract.

    Two local shops were advertising for "DOS based C programmers" at the time, so I applied.

    The first one rejected me because they were an Microsoft C shop, and all my experience was with Lattice. The fact that Microsoft was simply reselling Lattice C under their own name seemed to be a revelation to them.

    The second shop was even more amusing. Despite being impressed with my credentials, all my experience was unfortunately on PC based, and, as the interviewer patiently explained to me as if he was speaking to a child, their shop in question had no PCs, they had (drum roll) the new IBM XT computers.

    The frightening thing is that in those days HR (or Personel, as it was known back in the day) didn't interview tech positions, because they knew they didn't understand it. So the tech manager did the interviewing. So it was the management types, the people who would have been my immediate superiors, than didn't know the difference between a PC and an XT. For you youngun's: the XT has a hard drive, 7 bus slots instead of 5, and a 120 watt power supply rather than 63.5 watts. None of which really makes a difference to a C coder, but there you go.

    I didn't get an offer from either shop. Of course, I didn't really want one. Working at places where I'd report to managers like that really wasn't a big draw.

  • by Big Jojo ( 50231 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @04:49PM (#27792535)

    Ironically, a couple of decades ago they were sitting there with literally the keys to the realm in their hands, and they threw them away. Back in the late 80's they introduced the Sun386i workstation, featuring (drumroll..) Intel's 386 processor and a 386 port of SunOS. This was a proper preemptive multitasking OS with 32-bit virtual memory and a decent GUI, far ahead of Windows 2.x at the time. Not only that, it also had a functioning DOS emulator, allowing the machine to run MS-DOS programs. By focusing on x86, and selling SunOS/x86 for $50 or so they could have become the Microsoft of today.

    The Sun386i product line was what got Sun onto huge quantities of financial market desktops, and got Sun beyond Engineering/Server markets in a major way.

    And they were set to be the first to market with (drumroll) the Sun486i workstation, which worked even better. In fact it out-performed the first SPARC generation... can't have that! They invested in SPARC to get founder Andy Bechtolsheim to come back! (He wanted to design CPU chips, and that wasn't really practical at a company making primo commodity-based systems.)

    But, they weren't interested in playing the massive volumes with razor thin margins game of the PC world, thinking that the unix workstation market was insulated from the PC market. After all, PC's were for chumps running 1-2-3 and Wordperfect.

    But the Sun386i was a workstation, not a PC. The big apps were CAD tools and financial analysis packages. One reason it was popular at customer sites was however that if you had one, you didn't need TWO honking big pieces of computer hardware at your desk. The same one could handle all that PC stuff (which you needed regularly) as well as the hefty stuff (which you needed constantly).

    The real issues with x86 were political ... sometimes masquerading as strategic. It was developed on the East cost, not the west. Keeping Andy; not having to deal with the fact that the engineering culture on the west coast was aggressively blind to a lot of issues. Wanting to see themselves as Sun Gods. Even the desire to avoid investment in DOS/Windows compatibility, despite the customer demand for it.

    So they introduced their own hardware, SPARC, and discontinued SunOS/x86.

    They gave the Sun386i product line a nice lingering death, though, then more or less excised it from their corporate histories. That all the wood behind one arrow buzz-phrase, widely used inside Sun for a while, was all about getting rid of non-SPARC product lines. And stifling dissent.

    Another factor was that the Sun386i products had a different -- and more Apple-influenced -- design approach. Maybe it was realistic to focus on higher margins for a while. But the level of internal censorchip it took to ignore everything the '386i stood for (and Sun itself once stood for) ... was intensely damaging over the long term. A lot of upper level Sun engineers and managers internalized those battles so deeply they just kept blinders on.

  • Re:a priori (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jc42 ( 318812 ) on Friday May 01, 2009 @10:29PM (#27795233) Homepage Journal

    As we feared: he was trying to be an open source.
    Now he's closed.

    Heh. Deserving of the "funny" mod, and like a lot of humor, based on a lot of truth.

    Back in the years either side of 1990, I worked on a number of projects building software packages on workstations, and mostly I worked on Suns. One of the fun parts was all the people asking why we'd go with such an expensive machine, when you could get cheaper workstations with the same capabilities. But what happened repeatedly was: The guys working on the cheaper machines would be busy tracking down a bug, and the evidence led them into the system (libraries or OS). They'd ask the support people, and the answer would be "We can't tell you; that's proprietary."

    Meanwhile, we Sun geeks would handle such things by asking questions on the various relevant mailing lists and newsgroups. More often than not, answers would be posted by Sun engineers, who were encouraged to follow the forums. Fairly often, a Sun guy would simply offer to send us the relevant source code as an explanation. Often, they'd explain that it was too much code to just post on a list, but anyone who asked would get the code in their email. Sun wasn't officially open-source, but they'd figured out that helping developers understand the innards was good for business. And it was, because inevitably we'd have stuff running on the Sun boxes long before the teams working on the "proprietary" systems. Having working deliverables is always better than not having them, even if they're more expensive.

    But during the 1990s, this situation slowly disappeared. Sun slowly took their stuff proprietary, and developing significant software started running up against the brick wall of trade secrecy. But systems like linux and the *BSDs came along to replace Sun, giving us the access to internals that Sun no longer allowed.

    Note that part of Sun's early success was that the code was sent "warts and all". Sun engineers were quite open about what it could do and what it couldn't. It was common to get warnings from the Sun guys that certain parts hadn't been tested much, and we should expect bugs. This sort of thing horrifies marketing people, but it was what made us trust Sun and choose their platform for our packages. And again, when Sun drifted toward not being as open about their stuff's problems, that told us developers that we could no longer trust them for the information we needed to get our stuff working. So we moved to the open systems where people post criticisms and bug reports openly.

    It doesn't surprise me that Sun has lost its original position as a high-quality deveopment platform. It doesn't surprise me that they wouldn't want their people publishing criticisms of Sun's products. But those things long ago moved Sun from the "friendly and honest little company" category into the "untrustworthy big business" category in my mind and in the minds of a lot of developers.

    Someday the same thing will happen with the major linux distros, and we'll respond the same way. Not with a big fuss, but by just quietly walking away and adopting other systems.

  • Re:a priori (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Sanat ( 702 ) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @01:17AM (#27796123)

    Please mod parent up

    Anytime that Marketing gets involved in actually running a tech company then there is only one direction for it to go... a downward spiral.

    I always get suspicious when they replace real technical ability with individuals that have catchy titles ("random freelance contractor" with a Sun sticker)... which to me indicates little or no ability.

    Technical ability is hard won. A title or a sticker or a badge packs little credence among those who have already achieved the hard way. I can imagine the document that you could write from your experiences there.

  • by mzs ( 595629 ) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @01:27AM (#27796175)

    What happened is it was a short sighted save our jobs not their jobs issue. The suits in Palo Alto and Sunnyvale saw that cuts were coming. They were able to convince people including Zander that a great way to save money was to kill Solaris/x86, it had been suffering for years already due to limited staff and budget. Again the reason was that the people doing sparc and asic were afraid so that is why solaris/x86 was kept in such a sorry state. Heck they even had the people doing a large chunk of the x86 work in LA away from the rest of ON in Menlo Park.

    Anyway solaris/x86 was EOLed and almost everyone in LA working on it lost their jobs or got reassigned. But at almost the moment that solaris/x86 was EOLed there was quite a strong grassroots uprising outside of Sun about this, and it simply became impossible to not take notice. When Zander left, the correct direction was taken by embracing amd64.

    When I was there I did some x86 work. Hammer was announced. I voiced an opinion that we should get involved, and boy did that open a can of worms. Eventually through a contact at AMD in the UK I was able to get a person in Sun and a person at AMD to get in touch and we were sent three prototype Hammer boxes. What did those rascals at Sun do? They had them transferred to the SUNWpro (compilers) people instead. No they did not get one to them, one to ON (OS/Networking), and one to the x86 people in LA. The compiler group just sat on them. That infuriated me at the time and shortly after that I started looking for a new job pretty much entirely due to my disgust with how that was handled.

    Here is another nugget, a second level manager told me to distance myself as much as possible from x86 just before it was announced that solaris/x86 was EOLed.

    That is the sort of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd level managerial thinking that was the root cause of all of Suns poor decisions over the last ten years. They were always thinking about how best to serve their own group dept div instead of what was best long term.

  • by mzs ( 595629 ) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @03:42AM (#27796735)

    so somebody better post them here for posterity, and I guess that will be me.

    End of an Icon
    It's been quite a while since I've written anything in my blog. Having worked for the Corporate Development group at Sun for the past 3 1/2 years, I've had to be very careful about what I posted on a public blog. I felt it was better to be safe than sorry, so I've left it to the many other prolific bloggers at Sun to tell our story.

    But with the recent announcement that Sun will become part of Oracle, I feel able for the first time to talk about how we got here. Not about the Oracle acquisition itself, but rather how we as a company came to the point where seeking an acquirer was the best way forward. Granted, 2009 is one of the most challenging years in decades and many companies are struggling, but when I joined Sun in 1997, we had the technology world by the tail and were poised to become as influential and lucrative as our more famous rivals (Microsoft, IBM, Intel, HP and even Oracle). So as excited as I am about becoming part of Oracle (there were many far worse options in my opinion), it still feels a little anti-climatic.

    So as a sort of "post mortem" on the company, I'd like to examine where I think Sun really missed its opportunities. Some things are only obvious in hind sight, but many of these things are things I've spent my career at Sun advocating and attempting to drive forward. Maybe this is a bit of sour grapes on my part, but mostly this is just an attempt to say externally some of what I've been saying internally at Sun for most of my tenure, now that our future as a Corporation is moving out of our hands.

    I will call this my "Top 10 Reasons Sun is Setting". In typical Top 10 fashion, I will start with the #10 Reason Sun is Setting and work my way up to the #1 reason. I know there is a lot of opinion on this topic out there, so feel free to comment as you see fit. I think we may all find this cathartic.

    Posted on: Apr 23, 2009
    Posted by: dbaigent
    Category: Sun


    Don't blame employees. Just look back at the Sun very recent history. December 2008 : Southeastern Asset Management enter the board. April 20, Southeastern Asset Management sells all its stocks : [].
    Think about that.

    Posted by Dominique on April 23, 2009 at 09:36 AM PDT #

    I have a question for you Sir
    When you hear that Oracle wants to make 15% profit in the first year, are you embarressed? I mean you (and the other managers) could have cut all those useless projects that Oracle will cut now years ago, couln't you? Does it really need Larry Ellison to make a company with 13bn revenue and 55% gross margin profitable?

    Posted by Mista on April 23, 2009 at 10:36 AM PDT #

    I don't blame employees - at least not the rank-and-file. Sun is full of great, dedicated, energetic people who have done some incredible things with technology. Better than our rivals. My comments will be more on missed opportunities and poor strategies, not on the failure of any specific employees.

    Posted by dbaigent on April 23, 2009 at 11:43 AM PDT #

    No, I am not embarrassed by the idea that Oracle might turn a profit when Sun alone could not. It's easy to turn a profit by slashing jobs. Sun has been trying to turn a profit through increasing revenues, which is much harder.

    Posted by dbaigent on April 23, 2009 at 11:50 AM PDT #

    Increase revenue? With what?
    - with Looking Glass? Darkstar? Wonderland?
    - with a webserver?
    - with support fees of 1000$/socket for an application server or a database while direct competitors charge at least 20x that much?
    - with cutting prices for products (Openstorage or Niagara) ?

    Posted by Mista on April 23, 2009 at 12:31 PM PDT #

    The strategy for increased revenue depended on increasing the attach rate for existing products by leveraging communities of customers who

  • by mzs ( 595629 ) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @03:51AM (#27796767)

    Messing with the Java Brand

    Much has been said and will be said about how Sun "blew it" with Java - mostly around the lack of contribution by the technology to Sun's bottom line. But this #9 reason for the Setting Sun is not so much about lack of Java revenue (that's actually a rather complicated story), but rather about the numerous attempts by well-meaning marketing folks at Sun to try exploit the value of the Java brand itself and how that ultimately reduced the very value they tried to exploit. To some degree, this is as much about the lack of value in the Sun brand (at least outside our loyal customer base) as it is about Java. After all, if we had sufficient value in the Sun brand there would be no need to try to leverage the Java brand in other areas. But I believe our attempts to leverage the hard-fought value of the Java brand ultimately back-fired, diminishing both the Sun brand and the Java brand.

    In the earlier days of Java, the technology was managed by an independent "operating company" called JavaSoft, with its own marketing, sales, products and brand management. There were numerous discussions and debates within JavaSoft about the use of the Java brand and for the most part there was a strong focus on associating the brand with the promise of the technology - that old idea of "write once, run anywhere". There were several brand campaigns around Java - there was the concept of "Java Compatible" for licensees of the technology, "100% Pure Java" for application providers, "Java Powered" for devices, etc. - some of which were very successful, others were branding duds. But there was always a careful consideration of the term "Java" and how we would allow it to be used - both internally and externally.

    Fast forward to around 2003 and Sun is struggling to regain its former dot-com glory. We're coming off the painful Netscape-AOL alliance (more on that later) and we're struggling to find a way to express our remarkably robust software assets through a brand. We'd abandoned the confused "iPlanet" brand (which suffered from under-promotion and a "who's your daddy" syndrome between Sun and AOL) and were struggling with the equally confusing and under-promoted "Sun ONE" brand. We were also in one of our many post-dot-com-bubble austerity programs, so heavy investment in any brand was not likely to get funded. I can only assume that the branding discussion (which I was not part of) went something like this:

    What's the answer to our branding problem? Java! It's already one of the most recognizable brands in the world and we own it outright. Confused about what Sun ONE Application Server is? Call it the Java Application Server and problem solved! Well, wait - not quite. We can't really call it Java Application Server - that's already an industry standard term for Java EE implementations like IBM's Websphere and BEA's Weblogic and we don't want to further promote them. So let's call it Sun Java Application Server! Wait - hold on. That's likely to get confused with Sun's Java Application Server, which isn't very "brandy" and would be like saying "Sun's Operating System" for Solaris. Not good. Okay - how about Sun Java System Application Server! Yeah! That means it's not just an Application Server, but it is part of a system! Great! All our software is part of a "system"! Now we have a convention for all our software assets! The Sun Java System (fill in your product function here)!

    This lead to a proliferation of product names like Sun Java System Access Manager, Sun Java System Identity Manager, Sun Java System Directory Proxy Server, Sun Java System Web Proxy Server and on and on. The problem was not only was this a messy and cumbersome branding campaign, it was diluting the Java brand both within it's own convoluted convention and the broader technology market. Did Sun Java System Web Proxy Server have any Java in it at all? Did it manage the proxies of a Java web server or any web server? And if Sun was not going to use the Java brand to describe Java technologies, why would anyone els

  • by mzs ( 595629 ) on Saturday May 02, 2009 @03:54AM (#27796785)

    Fumbling Jini

    Just an aside...

    Before I go any further, let me just admit up front that I have a specific software bias in my perspective. Most bean-counter analysts will rightly say that the primary reason for Sun to be setting is that we didn't keep our stock price up and that we could have through a variety of financial measures, most notably more lay-offs. But in my opinion, the ability to keep the stock price up is directly related to how a company exploits all its market advantages over time, and I believe that the primary failures for Sun are in the areas of exploiting its software assets, not in a lack of aggressive job cuts.

    Building to the "Next Big Thing"

    When I joined Sun in January of 1997, Java technology had already transformed Sun from a technical workstation and server company into a software powerhouse. The 1997 JavaONE conference was the largest software developer conference ever held at the time. And Sun was charting an aggressive course for the technology, introducing Java Beans, JDBC, Abstract Windowing Toolkit (AWT), PersonalJava, EmbeddedJava, JavaCard, Enterprise Java Beans, Java Naming and Directory Interfaces, and on and on. And we quietly introduced something called Remote Method Invocation, or RMI. Interestingly, RMI, (along with another interface called Java Native Interface, or JNI), was one of the two aspects of Java 1.1 that Microsoft found so threatening that they refused to implement them in their Java 1.1.4 runtime, causing Sun to sue Microsoft over breach of contract.

    RMI is actually a relatively innocuous technology that allows the Java software components (called "objects") in one Java environment (called a "virtual machine", or VM) to talk to Java objects running in another VM. This type of process enables something called "distributed computing", a concept that had been around for years in various forms (some of the more common ones were Common Object Request Broker Architecture, or CORBA, and Microsoft's own Component Object Model Plus, or COM+). Distributed computing enabled software systems to become distributed around a network and still cooperate in solving a given compute task. RMI introduced a Java-specific way to accomplish this and it turns out that by having the same type of objects on both sides of a distributed computing model, the whole process became much simpler and more powerful (CORBA and COM+ allowed objects of different types, like Visual Basic and COBOL, to talk to one another and required a complex set of request brokers and foreknowledge of the application in order to work). What was needed was some form of dynamic finding service where Java objects could register themselves and, using Java-specific capabilities like Reflection and Introspection, determine how to interact with one another at run-time.

    Jini Jumps out of the Wrong Bottle

    In 1998, Sun introduced something we called Jini. According to and interview with Bill Joy in Wired Magazine, "The Net made it possible. Java made it doable. Jini might just make it happen". What was "it"? It was the idea that the Network really could become the Computer, making Sun's long quoted catch phrase a reality. It was the idea that if every computing device in a network could run Java and RMI, then creating networks of applications that could easily describe themselves, broadcast their capabilities to the network and join up with other devices to create distributed compute networks would be greatly simplified. And by doing it all in Java, it could be programmatic and automated. Jini was the architecture that made the value of Java running everywhere leveragable. And don't forget that Bill Joy was Sun's resident genius and a strong proponent of both the idea of Jini and its development.

    So what happened? How could a technology that was the brain child of Sun's resident genius and part of what Microsoft considered to be such a threat end up as a barely noticed project run by Apache? One obvious answer is that, like so many Sun products and technologies, it was a solution

All laws are simulations of reality. -- John C. Lilly