Comments from Sun founders

Remember the loonovitch? Steven Milunovichand his peers on Wall Street endlessly advising Sun against spending moneyon R&D? HP took their advice, and is just running out its momentum; Sun and IBM didn't and areprospering.

About fourteen months ago, on January 11th of 2006, the four original Sun partners: Andy Bechtolsheim, Bill Joy, Vinod Khosla, Scott McNealy, got together with John Gage at the Computer history Museum to discuss the early days at Sun - and, of course, some present day realities.

The summary had something I didn't know - that the slogan: "the network is the computer" had a second half:


Moderator John Gage was one of the first employees at Sun. Gage's hiring at Sun was a condition that Bill Joy placed on his own employment. He is credited with conceiving Sun's moniker or tagline: "The network is the computer." Gage invented the phrase while headed to China for a business trip. It is little known, but the second half of the expression never caught on: "The machine is the manual." This was intended to mean that using a computer should be a self- explanatory experience, without a manual required.

That the network is the computer is getting to be increasingly obvious and no one would deny that Sun has played a leading role in making it happen. But "The machine is the manual"? Apple could probably use the slogan, but while it's true that Solaris has become increasingly transparent with every new generation, all that Java stuff developed in response to the Microsoft tar baby has had the opposite effect. In fact, I'd bet that your production Solaris environment, whatever it is and however you use it, has Java files you don't know about and would be afraid to remove if you stumbled on them.

What I found most interesting about the discussion, particularly in retrospect, was the repeated assertion that only Sun and IBM, among major computer companies, are still doing real R&D:


McNealy opined that Silicon Valley was now in trouble because there is not enough attention being paid to innovation. He stated that the only computer companies that are now innovating are Sun and IBM \255 there is not a lot of innovation at the other computer companies. Dell and HP have essentially given up. (To this reporter, the inference was that the other computer companies are dependent on innovation from the microprocessor companies - Intel and AMD). Sun continues to innovate by hiring creative people, especially recent college grads, and is leveraging open source applications to support Sun's computing initiatives (based on the Java platform) ...

... McNealy maintained that ownership of intellectual property and lack of brand name have become huge barriers to entry for computer companies (he did not mention the large amounts of capital needed). Sun and IBM are the last computer companies left doing R&D, he maintained. Apple had a success with the iPOD, but that will be eclipsed with multi-function cell phones in a few years, because they will have all the iPOD's capabilities.

A year later Apple announced the iPhone: the first true pocket computer, capable of connecting users to both the voice and data nets at the same time -but it's the only exception: HP and Dell are continuing to decline with Intel as Microsoft's inability to deliver effective software for more than four concurrent cores forces everyone back to the megahertz race.

So what's the lesson here? Remember the loonovitch? Steven Milunovich and his peers on Wall Street endlessly advising Sun against spending money on R&D? HP took their advice, and is just running out its momentum; Sun and IBM didn't and are prospering.