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.
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.