Here's a new slam piece -- Correcting
course or sailing in circles
It's filled with the required -- yet
recycled -- rhetorical
catch phrases and crafty key messages
remnant of a PR FUD campaign designed for maximum negativity.
But, like many of these
, it's also so far over the top that it's really a
itself. Some people have told me that I shouldn't point to blogs or
articles like this (because I do it all the time), that I shouldn't
draw attention to negative opinions. I disagree for a couple of
reasons. First, it's fun.
Second, we need to know what people are saying about us so we
understand where we are doing ok and where we need to improve.
So, here's a quick list of the highlights -- or lowlights, actually --
that we are
supposed to remember from this article. This list forms the subtext of
the article. Let's not
bury these bits in the text. Let's pull them right out into a big
bulleted list for all to clearly see. This is what Sun is to this
writer in this article:
- sunk its claws
- begrudgingly relaxed its iron grip
- denied the importance of the x86 market
- skepticism and dismissive tone
- still in search
- too little, too late [Editorial
Note: this is my favorite!]
- big bellow
- Sun spin
Wow. That's quite a list. And scary, too. I should really probably be
looking for a new job right about now, but I'm not because this list is
garbage. I don't buy it for a minute. But that's what we are
to think about when
we read this article because that list
outlines quite nicely the negative messages
pervading the piece.
On a more macro level, this article uses a "nautical" image throughout.
It's just a cheap marketing
message delivery tactic, complete with a graphic
of a big fat sailor struggling against the wind to guide the Sun
take a look
. It's pretty funny.
Anyway, let's take a look at some of this article, starting with the
Correcting course or sailing in circles?
Naaa. No bias, PR spin, or agenda there. "Sailing in circles" isn't
designed to leave a negative impression at all. Right.
Sun Microsystems is on the verge of becoming the Rodney Dangerfield
of systems companies. Although Sun shows signs of turning the corner
financially, it doesn't get much respect.
Ok, the "Rodney" thing is cute -- and I'm a huge Rodney fan, don't get
wrong -- but it's been used before to slam Sun. Can we find a new
attack metaphor next time?
The problem is not technology. Sun still gets good reviews for
hardware and software, which is produced by some of the industry's
most talented engineers, armed with an ample R&D budget. The Sun
brand still has some cachet, and although investors don't have much
to cheer (see "Sun's Recent Financial Performance," below),
they're glad Sun is sitting on more than $3.6 billion in cash and
short-term investments (as of December 2004), banked when the company
was one of the big bellows inflating the Internet bubble.
So, our engineers are good guys. Thanks! I agree. This is the only
positive part of the article, though. Sorry, it's not enough. The cash
figure seems low, too. I found $7.464 billion lying around in Sun's
Q205 January 13th press release
. Perhaps the article uses an old
figure, I don't know. But why would you use an old figure when that
$7.464 billion number took me fifteen seconds to find? I don't know ...
I'm not a numbers guy. Now, the
Internet "bubble" reference is really cool -- this article is slamming
us for not only
"sailing in circles" right now
seems that we are also getting slammed for being a "big bellow" and
"inflating" the "Internet bubble" back when everyone
thought we were
successful in the 90s!
Man ... talk about not getting any
respect. We can't do anything right for this guy. Truth is, both
extremes are completely wrong, as extreme positions generally are.
Where Sun loses respect is for its recent business decisions, which
cause observers to wonder if the ship is just sailing in circles. At
the root of Sun's problems are three factors, which critics say it
hasn't adequately addressed. Linux has taken hold in corporate
America, proving capable of many computing tasks that used to require
Unix. The price/performance of the x86 architecture has become
favorable against Sun's SPARC architecture. The Internet bubble
burst. As a result of all three, Sun has lost customers.
Ok. True, we missed some market shifts. And guess what? We admitted
our mistakes and
changed our strategy. I remember Scott himself saying so during his
keynote at LinuxWorld Expo when we launched our new (at the time) Linux
boxes. I was 10 feet away. My friend wrote the speech. I also remember
Jonathan Schwartz and John Loiacono saying so many times in the media
the last couple of years. Why
are those admissions not cited here? Why no mention of Solaris on x86
and Sun's massive commitment to commodity hardware? What ... no Opteron
Immediately after the Internet bubble burst, Sun posted record
losses, from which it has only recently recovered, thanks to layoffs
and other cost cutting. But its management has come under criticism,
because it appears to be unwilling to face its problems or refashion
itself as some other kind of company. "Denial" is routinely
used to describe Sun's attitude toward x86 and Linux. On top of
everything else, some analysts still have doubts that CEO Scott
McNealy is the man who can captain the ship out of these doldrums
(see "Scott McNealy's Dilemma," December 2003).
No, not "thanks to layoffs." Those are friends who were let go. People.
And just how are we "unwilling to face our problems?" Seems to me
there's a lot of change going on at Sun that directly address the
challenges we face. And then there's the "On top of everything else
goodness, there's just so much we had to have an
"On-top-of-everything-else" tossed in for good measure. Funny. But
what's even better, though, is that the "On-top-of-everything-else"
reference leads to an old article way back in 2003 to substantiate it's
claim. Can't we use some recent references? Any reason we are dragging
old references to substantiate new claims? Sounds like there's some recycling
going on around here.
Skipping around a bit:
Characteristic are comments by Amy Wohl, editor of the newsletter,
"Amy Wohl's Opinions," who points out that the open source
license Sun chose for Solaris is the Common Development and
Distribution License (CDDL), not the General Public License (GPL) of
Linux. "Because the terms of the CDDL license do not permit CDDL
code to be used with GPL code," she says, "nothing in these
patents can be used with Linux. Sun thinks that if it just releases
its OS, suddenly the open source community will decide to write open
source code that won't work with GPL. I don't understand what these
guys are thinking."
No. We do not
and we have not
that if we just release Solaris "suddenly the open source community
will decide to write open source code that won't work with GPL." I'd
love to see that reference. What
said is that
we are building an open source Solaris community -- OpenSolaris
is the key word
there. The OpenSolaris
will, indeed, write open source code for the OpenSolaris
project. And on the CDDL
part. I thought it was the
. This is just another example of someone who sees
from the perspective of Linux or some other community or based on a
simple lack of knowledge. Sooner or later people will see Linux
for what it is and see Solaris for what it is. It will take time for
people to get used to this, though. Both have value.
No matter what Sun does, someone dismisses it.
Of course. Name one company. Just one. Where this is not also true.
Even the blindly loved Apple has serious and responsible critics
Why does this skepticism persist? Critics say Sun's moves don't add
up to a comprehensive program.
"It's still in search of a
sustaining strategy," argues Rob Enderle, a longtime Sun watcher
and president of the Enderle Group. "It tends to move from idea
to idea when it needs to stay on one line to execute. It says it's a
services company. Then it says it's a software company. But it
remains a hardware company. It's on and off with open source. It's
trying to do some desktop stuff, but it's still a server company.
It's struggling for a direction in a changing world."
Cute quote. Very dramatic, too. It fits the stormy-seas-nautical-theme
of the article as well. But we are a systems company. I've never heard
One thing seems clear, and perhaps this is the lesson for others: The
skepticism and dismissive tone now are the fruit of Sun's past hubris
in implying that only it understands the market.
Naaa. That's not sarcastic or condescending.
"For years it denied the importance of the x86 market and
Linux," says Graham-Hackett. "To its credit, it's
reexamining those beliefs. But having been in denial for so long and
then flipping, it will get some criticism.
"Some criticism?" Just some? My goodness. And we are not "re-examining
our beliefs." We are implementing a new strategy, backed up with
engineering and products and marketing. That's hardly "re-examining our
"When you talk to the company now, it is still hard to believe
that the arrogance has gone away. It's convinced of its value in the
marketplace, but it's not where it needs to be. It's been
marginalized and runs the risk of continuing to lose market share."
If we are so marginalized why are we getting attacked so much? Perhaps
people are in denial and are getting nervous about the changes
we've made. Sure we can screw this up, but what if we don't? What if?
What happens if we are right about the moves we've made in the last
year or so?
Linux and x86 hardware are both nemesis and opportunity for systems
companies, depending on how they choose to view them. IBM recognized
the opportunity early in the game, and Hewlett-Packard followed soon
after. Until recently Sun had sunk its claws into the belief that
Linux and x86 are nemeses and only begrudgingly relaxed its iron
I love the "begrudgingly." Especially since x86 and Opteron are
basically the hottest things going on inside Sun right now.
Sun spurned any x86 strategies until a little more than a year ago,
when it started to peddle Advanced Micro Devices x86 Opteron servers;
it now sells more of them than its own SPARC-based hardware. Sun went
to the trouble to port Solaris to Opteron, but most Opteron Sun sells
are outfitted with Linux, not Solaris. Sun now partners with Red Hat
and SuSE Linux to offer the Linux option. Its dilemmas don't seem to
We are "peddling" AMD's stuff? Again with the sarcasm and
We are doing a bit more than peddling here. And give me a break.
Solaris 10 just shipped. This is so misleading. Intentionally so, I
believe. And I'm still looking for the
million Solaris licenses
that are missing from this piece ...
mostly on x86, too. Imagine
Sun argues that results from its moves may not be evident soon.
"Elements of our strategy took literally years to complete,"
says Gogune. "Solaris 10 is the culmination of $500 million in
R&D and thousands of engineering years. Open-sourcing Solaris
required vetting all of the 5-million-plus lines of code. Free
Solaris is a bold maneuver that required getting a comprehensive set
of services in place to monetize the market expansion."
Tom's name is spelled wrong. In fact, it's wrong in several places in
the article. For the correct spelling, go here
With a ship, it can be hard to tell whether it is turning.
Hard to tell? Sorry. I'm not buying it. I think it's just denial.