Sun - Evolution of a company

Dave Brillhart asks and partly answers a key question: do industry conditions favour Sun's ongoing success, and is Sun equipped to evolve within the changing environment?

My answer to both questions is also yes, but I take a slightly different view to Dave; I think a company's DNA does not reside primarily in a concept of technology like Networked Computing: it resides in deeper concepts that are ultimately about people. That said, here is what I think Sun is fundamentally about:

  • Sun' big idea is: 1) make compute technology simple and effective, 2) solve big problems - these qualities are measured by people
  • Sun's core DNA resides in it's culture: an environment that favours freedom of thought, enabling innovation and really different ideas to be considered and (if they are good) to flourish; from NFS to Java to Solaris 10, Sun successfully creates an ongoing series of innovations that are so successful, they become almost invisible; this is a measure of both their simplicity and their seamless adoption into the mainstream
  • This open culture naturally promotes two-way permeability - ideas and technology from Sun (such as Java) are released to the public, many are open-sourced (such as OpenOffice.org, soon Solaris); conversely, Sun works with many external groups to mature technologies (such as Linux, X11, Mozilla, GNOME) that Sun also imports, and releases as added value to customers

I believe it is these qualities - especially diversity and permeability - looking forward and outward - that enable Sun to evolve. I think Sun has evolved significantly even in the last few short years; in my view, the biggest change is that we have accepted, deep down, that simplicity resides not only within the technology itself, but it has to reach up through layers of software right up to the user interface. Simplicity is not just for system administrators and developers; it is also for end-users. Customers of our products are beginning to notice this seismic change, but you've just seen the start of the first wave.

So to the heart of the question: do industry conditions favour Sun? Here's my take: as long as end-to-end computing remains a hard problem, and as long as innovation is about participating in a global network of talented people inside and outside of Sun - then conditions require Sun - as a firestarter, as a solver of the hardest problems, and as a company that can bring real solutions based on continuous innovation to customers.

But there's one more thing, maybe more important than all of that - we're not perfect, we're just striving to be. And the key part about evolution is that it does not happen without a context, and that context is our customers and their ongoing evolution. When it comes to listening to our customers there are so many questions that as an engineer I would like to ask so I'll just ask one - what do you want to achieve that you can't today because of cost or complexity? Because Sun wants to help your (r)evolution.

And if part of your (r)evolution is related to individual and team productivity, I really want to hear from you, because together we're putting the "open" into OpenOffice.org.

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