The failure of McNealy's ponytail strategy

Summary:Now that IBM looks ready to sunset Sun for around $7 billion, will open source take the blame? Open source has certainly been set up to do so.

Now that IBM looks ready to sunset Sun for around $7 billion, will open source take the blame?

Open source has certainly been set up to do so.

By installing Jonathan Schwartz as CEO and loudly proclaiming a switch to open source, Sun chairman Scott McNealy tried to put himself in a heads I win, tails you lose position, the software ponytail wagging the hardware dog.

It's possible that, without the world financial meltdown, he could have pulled it off. But Schwartz was never really the man in charge, and Sun's numbers were never really related to its open source offerings.

Sun was always an enterprise hardware outfit. A complete collapse would prove a disaster for its customers, both large U.S. companies and the government. The current deal is the best possible outcome for everyone.

That's because the financial collapse has hardened hearts, even at IBM, and it's this gimlet eye that is making today's deal possible. Draconian cuts to reach a profitable core can be criticized in good times. Now I doubt the objections carry any weight.

McNealy's model in his turnaround effort was IBM itself, which in the 1990s used Linux to unify its product lines, open source to share its development load, and enterprise services to bring in the cash.

Schwartz was the public face of that strategy because it would lack credibility with McNealy, a Sun co-founder, seemingly in charge. But he was in charge. And as Sun began circling the drain the mask of Schwartz (and his ponytail) came off.

Thus in the end IBM was the only possible buyer, because its business model was the only possible fit. My prediction on a lower price also looks prescient.

And Schwartz? See how many read his blog when it's being written, like this one, by just another unemployed has-been.

Topics: Oracle, IBM, Open Source

About

Dana Blankenhorn has been a business journalist since 1978, and has covered technology since 1982. He launched the Interactive Age Daily, the first daily coverage of the Internet to launch with a magazine, in September 1994.

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.