Sun sets on an era of wonderful innovation

I come not to bury Sun Microsystems, but to praise it.

Oracle’s purchase of Sun is not yet complete; the deal hasn’t legally closed. However, the end is near: The shareholders have approved the deal and, on July 16, Sun’s board voted to accept the US$7.4 billion acquisition offer. All that’s left are the legalities.

While I’ve been critical of Sun’s management for the past several years, I will still mourn its passing as one of the last great innovators of our era. (While I respect Oracle’s technology portfolio and marketing clout, its innovations are less fanciful and appear more in the boardroom than the laboratory.)

My first hands-on experience with Sun’s products came a billion years ago, with Sun workstations. (Don’t forget, Sun’s original stock symbol, SUNW, meant “Sun Workstations.”) I had the pleasure of owning a Sun 3/60, a powerhouse picked up secondhand in the early 1990s, and used it to get my own first-hand experience with Unix.

That speedy workstation, to me, meant Sun.

Later that decade, I had the pleasure to work with some big servers and was impressed by their speed and reliability. Wonderful, wonderful hardware. As the company’s focus shifted from the engineering desktop to the data center, those servers, to me, meant Sun.

In the meantime, of course, Sun was working on software. While the Java platform was first announced in 1995, it didn’t begin making a serious impact until Java 2 came out in 1998. (Coincidentally, the very first issue of SD Times, published in February 2000, covered the announcement of Java 2 Micro Edition, then called J2ME, now called Java ME.)

By the early 2000s, Java, to me, meant Sun.

And so it stayed. Despite the company’s pushes to broaden the appeal of Solaris, its success in expanding its hardware portfolio into storage, its open-source moves, and its creative devices like the Sun SPOT, Sun became known for unfettered innovation—and for the inability to make money out of its brilliance.

Cleverness is not enough. That message, to me, means Sun.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick