A deafening silence: the media on Sun

Sun's product announcements, which are genuinely epochal within the x86 industry, produced little more than ayawn from a media machine that routinely puts an Intel promise wrapped in nothing more substantialthan a press release on its front pages.

I make no secret of the fact that I type these blogs on a Sun 60 workstation using vi - I know that makes me a biased old codger, but there you go, we all wear the jerseys that come with the stuff we use, and I use Solaris on SPARC.

At the same time, however, I believe that the most common form of bias in the technology press isn't actually bias in favor of one product or manufacturer over another, but a form of myopia in which the writer is unable to see beyond the vendor, or vendors, he appears to support. In effect these are people who genuinely don't know that what they don't know renders their opinions worthless because they simply don't know enough about the competitors outside the area they focus on to have an opinion worth listening to.

(Ok, I guess that sentence gives away my plan to mount a "Donny for President" bumper sticker campaign, but, please, read it again: like his more famous effort, it actually does make sense smile-:))

Two examples of vendor myopia from the last couple of weeks should make the point: one a deafening silence, the other some serious misdirection in the reporting of a pair of Sun hardware pricing breakthroughs.

A couple of weeks ago Sun introduced the first of their "galaxy" line of Opteron based x86 servers. These things cost from a third to a half less than their Dell, HP, and IBM competitors, outperform them by a third or more, and use from a quarter to about half as much input power to do it. Almost equally importantly Sun introduced a new integrated rack mount and a "pod" concept implementation enabling buyers to have Sun deliver a fully tested custom configuration including servers, networking, storage, and power management that's really plug and play ready.

So how did the press react?

Sun's product announcements, which are genuinely epochal within the x86 industry, produced little more than a yawn from a media machine that routinely puts an Intel promise wrapped in nothing more substantial than a press release on its front pages.

So what did they report on? Not on the potential for cost savings, not on pre-configuration and the pod idea, not on power savings, and certainly not on the nine new performance records these things set. A few people focused on the human interest side of Andy Bechtolsheim's return to the Sun fold - but most of them followed Jeffrey Burt's lead, in eWeek on perpetuating a myth of their own devising. Here's that lead:

 

Sun Microsystems on Monday continued its push to remake itself into a technology company that embraces industry standards, open source and a wide variety of partners.

Brilliant, huh? Think he'll announce next week that Microsoft is going proprietary?

About a week later Sun announced commercial availability of the ultraSPARC IV+ in the same boxes, and at no price increase over the UltraSPARC IV. More new performance records, more lowered price points -and even less coverage. If Intel announced a Xeon+ that gave you a 50% or greater performance boost at no incremental cost how do you think the press would react?

Right, but when Sun actually does it; well, I don't read everything, but everything I saw missed the big picture.

Indeed some of the worst reporting on this came from people you'd expect, based on past performance, to have a reasonable perspective on Sun. ZDNet's own Stephen Shankland, for example, has a lot of credibility in terms of reporting on Sun but his key story on this is as bad as anyone else's. Thus he starts by pointing at HP and IBM as "fierce" competitors, highlights the claim that Sun had originally said the chip would debut at 1.8Ghz not the 1.5Ghz delivered, refreshes the credulous reader on Gartner's opinion that IBM is gaining market share at Sun's expense, and loads the story with subliminal sneers and condescensions like:

 

At the cheapest end, a V490...costs about $31,000.

Sun decided to coax customers toward the newer operating systems..

Now many people think this isn't a big deal - so Sun doesn't get its message out and some reporters slant their work to turn what should be a positive report into a FUD slinging opportunity. So what? Well, the so what is that you're paying more than you should, for products that don't work as well as they should, because competitive markets depend on honest information and these people aren't giving it to you.