reflections on fridayI don't even care to apologize for some of my analysis on friday's Sun Microsystems FY08 Q4 and full year earnings call. I guess what I would like to do is provide some background on what has brought me to this place of
seeming uni-focus on one company. There are 2 key explanations for it:
1. I grew up on Sun. Much like my internships in college and graduate school, I was early-on influenced by the magnitude of this seemingly innocuous strategy of Sun's to sponsor a programming language that would at once be viable,
while at the same time being magnanimous in its implementation, basically by allowing it to run on something other than its own Operating System: Solaris. Essentially, it was 1995, and I was struggling to figure out what to do with my life,
as undergraduate days were passing by and I was getting sick of politics, which is the area of study that I had chosen (no regrets). Alongside Netscape, which to any college-age student at the time, was the ultimate in freedom of expression,
of a business plan that was undoubtedly inspired, required the use of, and ultimately bound to the concepts of Java's multi-platform, re-use, developer intrigue value proposition. This was spring of 1996, and it was a plan I still have
Essentially, it was to allow students to write applications that would be accessible on-line, and they would be paid for the use of these programs. I am slightly embarassed to admit this, as I know of several incarnations of this same idea
that have been attempted, but it was 1996, and it pre-dated the official release of Marimba. I remember working on this plan, as it included some "cloud-like" attributes, such as an operating system for the applications the students would
write (essentially, what would later be known to me as an application server), a mechanism to deliver the applications in a customized manner (what would later be known to me as Castanet), and a customer-base that would pay for
usage, not just to have something pre-loaded on their computer, as Microsoft had established with all of their profitable products. Though my focus on the 'education' market, of empowering students to write applications was a bit
cumbersome for figuring out how and when students would do this plan, it was my catalyst in to the world of pre-built software components, that would form the hallmark of my days leading up to and ultimately as an employee of Sun,
in the early form of the Sun-Netscape Alliance.
I am extremely proud and fortunate to have had the opportunity to work on Netscape's campus, the original brown-stone-ish 2 and 3 story buildings in Mountain View that I believe are now occupied by that networking company that
began with a "V", I can't recall, but whatever, anyone who is anyone in the Valley, knows the old Netscape campus, and not only did I get to work in building 23, but I got to actually work with Netscape employees, who by then in
September of 1999 were AOL employees. I was hired by a Netscape middle manager, and the basic truism for Netscpae middle-managers, as far as i could tell, is that they were by far, without question, the coolest and smartest
people in software. The browser-based middleware strategy of Web, App, and Directory Servers was the reason why BEA, Oracle, and IBM even knew how to compete with Microsoft for developers, it is because of the immense
talent at Netscape that Java even has a chance today, even as we long-ago have forgotten about that company called Netscape.
My final year of graduate school afforded me the opportunity to travel to the Bay Area a couple of times, first for my cousin's wedding, and then NYE on my way to SE Asia, and then for Spring Break. During these social visits, I
made every effort to talk with people in the Java market, as I knew that if my educational application development start-up idea was not going to initially work, I wanted to work on what I thought was the only place that I could:
in the very early-emerging Internet software market. I talked with Oracle, I talked with Silicon Graphics, I talked with Network Computer (that thin client operation sponsored by Ellison), and others, but I was somehow, through the
distribution of a short paper I wrote on the to-be-announced Enterprise Java platform, able to get some informational interviews with Sun people. I basically made my way through the NetDynamics ranks of Sanjay, Rakesh, Ratnesh,
and the guy who changed my viewpoint or at least gave me the confidence to pursue my career path, Dan Graves.
I still remember sitting in his office, and his drawing up the basic constructs of the Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) component-model for re-use across multiple platforms. It is relatively unclear to me if he was the only one willing to dream
that big, or was the only one willing to talk about it, but it was in-line with what I had been thinking about for student development, and Dan was suggesting it was the only reason that NetDynamics had just been acquired by Sun. This
was following BEA's acquisition of WebLogic, so the market for application servers clearly had some potential. I figured it was where I needed to be, and after much harassing of Yuan Huntington of Netscape, I got a job in the fall
after graduating from William and Mary. No experience, no programming knowledge, no connections beyond what I had made in 1998-99 throughout the NetDynamics org., and yet Yuan took a flier on me pretty much based on my
excitement for the possibility of a new kind of "operating system" called an application server.
I started and remained at Sun for about 4.5 years, never once changing my title as the Product Marketing Manager on Sun's application server: Netscape, iPlanet, Sun ONE, and finally Sun Java System. I have many little stories to be
filled-out over how I maintained that position on a relatively crucial piece of Sun's future business strategy, but suffice to say, I left on my own terms, under huge amounts of duress, that does not eclipse the fact that today Glassfish lives,
and my apologies to all the Netscape, iPlanet, and Sun people who I worked with, but there would be no viable application server program at Sun without me. Arrogance, myopia, and inertia aside, I gave my career, sacrificed my
well-being, and stood up to injustice in the name of that damn product, so i could give a f*ck today what people at Sun who think I am being inflammatory or harsh on the CEO think. I grew up on Sun, and I think I have earned the
right to talk about it today.
2. Sun is in a death spiral, and it is simple math or at least information technology math, that once you take away the aura of inevitability, such as for customers to start to think: 'hmmm, perhaps Sun won't survive,' the wheels come off,
because deals just melt away. After Friday, that is exactly what is going to happen over the next couple of quarters. It is going to be ugly. And it is because of enormous arrogance, that is probably better understood as stubbornness,
because the constructs of a deal are in place over the JDK between JBoss and Glassfish that would greatly enhance the Enterprise Java portability, and re-use argument, as well as the most obvious point of all: that Sun needs Red Hat
Linux as a lifeline to sell the SPARC "Niagara" T2 hardware. You can reference my posts below to get some further context for this argument, but it bears repeating: Sun will die unless it ditches Solaris-only mindset on their most
I hope you can see why the two points are related, and that is why I have begun blogging again, as anyone closely following Sun for 10 years, as I have, knows what is going on. It is time for renewal of the value proposition that said:
'there is no pride in placing the advantages of a community-developed product over the merits of our own internally-developed product.' Solaris and Java are on two completely separate trajectories, and Sun will run out of accounts
to call-on, readily available assets, and ultimately it will lose its installed base, if it continues to be stubborn. I have made some bold characterizations, I don't really care for some of the people feeding the openSolaris mindset, but this
is more than personal, it really comes down to making the right business decision. And that means making it before it is too late. I can't think of anything else to do but this:
- sign Red Hat to Global Partnership across all issues
- make Glassfish the only supportable application server for GSO
I have said it before, but it is worth mentioning one last time, if steps are not taken soon, there will be no niche, no market, no product-line, and no base for Sun to justify corporate goodwill, future growth, and developer sentiment, it is
time to cast aside the stubbornness of the current regime, and save this company...