Sun Microsystems is changing its stock symbol from SUNW to JAVA.

The symbol has been SUNW (reflecting Sun workstations, the company’s original product line) every since the company went public in 1986.

Why is Sun doing this? Because Java is a popular brand. According to CEO Jonathan Schwartz, on his blog last Thursday,

As I said, the number of people who know Java swamps the number of people who know Sun. Or SUNW, the symbol under which Sun Microsystems, Inc. equity is traded on the NASDAQ stock exchange. SUNW certainly has some nostalgic value – it stands for “Stanford University Network Workstation,” and heralds back to Sun’s cherished roots (in academia). Granted, lots of folks on Wall Street know SUNW, given its status as among the most highly traded stocks in the world (the SUNW symbol shows up daily in the listings of most highly traded securities).

But SUNW represents the past, and its not without a nostalgic nod that we’ve decided to look ahead.

JAVA is a technology whose value is near infinite to the internet, and a brand that’s inseparably a part of Sun (and our profitability). And so next week, we’re going to embrace that reality by changing our trading symbol, from SUNW to JAVA. This is a big change for us, capitalizing on the extraordinary affinity our teams have invested to build, introducing Sun to new investors, developers and consumers. Most know Java, few know Sun – we can bring the two one step closer.

I disagree with Jonathan about this. Branding is good, but there’s a difference between a brand and a company. The company is Sun. One of the company’s most popular and powerful brands is indeed Java. But there’s a difference.

• If I want to know how Java is doing, I look at Java.
• If I want to know how Sun is doing, I look at Sun.

You’re not going to ask, “How’s Java doing on the market today?” or “I’d like to buy 200 shares of Java,” though perhaps that’s what Jonathan wants you to do.

What does the stock ticker JAVA has to do with Sun’s other software brands, like OpenOffice/StarOffice, Solaris, NetBeans or SPARC? Nothing. It has even less to do with Sun’s hardware brands. Java is only one part of Sun, albeit a very success one. It seems that Jonathan wants investors to forget his other products, and just focus on the Java brand.

Imagine if Apple were to change its stock ticker from AAPL to IFON (iPhone). Or Ford went from F to MSTG (Mustang). Or Microsoft changed from MSFT to WNDW or WDWS (for Windows). Or Motorola changed from MOT to RAZR. Or Proctor & Gamble went from PG to PMPR (Pampers). Silly, eh? So is changing SUNW to JAVA.

A stock ticker should represent the company, not just one of its more popular brands, because investors are investing in the company, not in just a brand.

Jonathan continues,

To be very clear, this isn’t about changing the company name or focus – we are Sun, we are a systems company, and we will always be a derivative of the students that created us, Stanford University Network is here to stay. But we are no longer simply a workstation company, nor a company whose products can be limited by one category – and Java does a better job of capturing exactly that sentiment than any other four letter symbol. Java means limitless opportunity – for our software, systems, storage, service and microelectronics businesses. And for the open source communities we shepherd. What a perfect ticker.

However, the message that the ticker change sends is precisely that Sun is changing its focus.

A second criticism is that this continues the trend of moving Java away from a multi-vendor community standard to a Sun-specific property. I felt this way when Sun began rebranding its Sun ONE server software as “Java Enterprise System” in late 2003. Rather than reinforcing the popular message that Sun was creating universal software and a level playing field, the JES branding exercise declared that Java == Sun. The stock symbol change now says that Sun == Java.

So, how long until Sun Microsystems changes its name? Sun still owns the name JavaSoft, which defined a Java subsidiary that the company reabsorbed in 1998.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick
4 replies
  1. Yvonne
    Yvonne says:

    This begs the question of whether Sun is planning to change its name to Java, as Word Perfect and others have.

    Of course, that would mean subordinating Sun’s hardware products to Java. I’m not so sure whether that’s a good idea, but the other software products certainly pale in comparison to Java.

  2. David Dossot
    David Dossot says:

    Another reason that makes this renaming asinine is that Sun has never been shining as a Java specialist in the industry.

    Their IDE is finally catching up but the damages done by the infamous “Pet Store” and other less than solid “best practices” and patterns, have turned professionals away from Sun.

    When it comes to find Java-driven solutions or advices, I can name a wealth of companies and websites to turn to but none will be within Sun’s realm.

  3. Steve
    Steve says:

    I own JAVA stock. I am not proud of it but I have owned it for a while and I have even added to my position, so keep this in mind. I think JAVA (formerly SUNW) is going to be bought by Google and yes I own that one too. I think it would be a very good fit. They both have a common enemy Microsoft. They have partnered on an alternative (star Office) to MS office. I think Project Indiana is a prelude to Google giving away a linux based and easy to use alternative to Windows. This would help google hurt Microsoft. It would also allow them to pre-install all the things that google wants you to use: Gmail, Check out, Calendar, Desktop. I think google buying and grandcentral are all steps in prelude to this next big step. Google has about 1 million severs all running Linux. I think they would benefit even more then Sun microsystems would. Just my thoughts. I keep buying JAVA and hopefully, I will be correct (or at least that is my opinion and hope).

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