It's probably fair to say that Sun won't be recording 2003 as one of the golden years of its 20-year history. Increasing competition from cheap Intel boxes running Linux and Windows played havoc with its server sales -- the traditional mainstay of its business -- while several key execs, including co-founder Bill Joy, decided to part ways with the firm.
After years of being in the top five of the IT big-hitter league table, analysts began to not only question the company's business model but its continued existence. Some commentators even began to call for the removal of the company's controversial chief executive Scott McNealy.
But as 2004 gets underway, Sun's lot seems to have improved slightly with a narrower than expected second-quarter loss, and a number of large public sector wins in the UK pointing to a brighter outlook for the beleaguered giant.
ZDNet UK spoke to Sun's UK managing director, Leslie Stretch, about the company's Linux desktop strategy, McNealy's future and the end of Cobalt Networks.
So what does 2004 hold for Sun UK?
The Office of Government Commerce is in today carrying out workshops on the evaluation of Java Enterprise System -- following the framework which we announced just before Christmas. We have been investing in the public sector for years now but it's only in the past six months that this has turned into contracts. So from a revenue perspective the public sector is the future.
We have got the patient care records programme, with BT as a partner. We are playing on our own in a very similar way with the criminal justice project. It's a Java XML project to connect up the criminal justice agencies. Similarly the patient care records (PCR) scheme is Java and XML project to connect up and digitise PCR. To take you from the edge of the network and take you right through the health care system. The congestion charge system also runs on Sun. So from a digitising Britain/public sector we have got a lot in place.
On the PCR system -- most of our December production capacity in the UK was probably taken up with the computers for that. [The value of this project is rumoured to be around $250m]. It is huge for us -- it is our largest ever contract in the UK.
You must have heard about the leaked IBM internal memo in which the company seemed to commit to an internal rollout of desktop Linux and then backtracked. How far has Sun got with rolling out desktop Linux internally?
This would probably surprise some people but our style isn't to bully people into using what we use. I can safely say that three months before we hit production on that project [Java Desktop] most of the company was using it. The reason they were using it is because it presents them with the same user interface as their thin client environment so they are used to it.
It's not our style to go round issuing edicts. This company is made up of iconoclastic techies; you start telling them what to put on their desktop and they'll soon tell you were to go. What I have observed is wholesale adoption. So we can help IBM; certainly I'd like to meet them in the UK and help with their desktop rollout.