Friday Apr 08, 2005

Paris Hilton and me... in the same article!

I kid you not.

Check out the Marketing Sherpa case study entitled Sun Microsystems Tests High-Impact Brand Revival Campaigns Online: 3 Broken Rules. (Better hurry, though -- it's only available for free viewing for a short while longer.)

They also posted some cool screenshots and such from our quarterly NC Web launches.

No shots of Paris, though. Bummer...

Wednesday Mar 23, 2005

Invasion of the Giant 10's!

Rich Burridge has a great entry in his blog about the Royal College of Art project to carpe London with life-sized sculptures illustrating the ten primary attributes of Solaris 10. Read all about it -- and kudos to Fiona for a brilliant piece of non-traditional marketing, perfectly executed.

Thursday Dec 09, 2004

"How to Build A Better PC? Don't Give Up." Get a Sun Ray!

From The Wizard of Oz:

Dorothy: Oh, will you help me? Can you help me?
Glinda: You don't need to be helped any longer. You've always had the power to go back to Kansas.
Dorothy: I have?
Scarecrow: Then why didn't you tell her before?
Glinda: Because she wouldn't have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.
Tin Man: What have you learned, Dorothy?
Dorothy: Well, I -- I think that it -- that it wasn't enough just to want to see Uncle Henry and Auntie Em -- and it's that -- if I ever go looking for my heart's desire again, I won't look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn't there, I never really lost it to begin with! Is that right?

Reading David Gelertner's Op Ed piece, How to Build A Better PC? Don't Give Up., in this morning's Wall Street Journal (p. A16), I was reminded of what Dorothy learned: that if she ever goes looking for her heart's desire again, she won't have to look any further than her own backyard.

In this case, what Gelertner is looking for may not be in his own backyard, but IT IS AVAILABLE FROM SUN!

To his heart's first desire:

Like many people, I have several PCs in my life -- and I constantly need to ask such ridiculous questions as, "Where did I leave the latest version of that file? By what clumsy method should I move it from where it is to where it's needed?"...

IBM might have done well selling PCs with built-in "transparent information sharing." As soon as you connected such a machine to the internet, all your electronic documents would immediately be available -- no matter where you created or worked on them. If all your computers had transparent information-sharing, you could start composing an e-mail at work, touch it up during your drive home (using a -- theoretical -- in-car, audio-interface IBM PC) and finish it up on a laptop in your backyard...

Many old and decrepit PCs would be replaced tomorrow if bringing new PCs up to speed weren't such a colossal nuisance. IBM PCs with transparent information-sharing would have made that problem disappear. Connect a new machine to the internet and all your electronic information would have materialized automatically...

[and...] Why doesn't every computer I use show me the exact same desktop, with the same layout of the same icons? -- or (at any rate) the same picture, no matter what interface I use? I could go on.

Dude, you don't have to go on: with the exception of the voice-driven car interface, we can do all that today. It's called the Sun Ray Ultra-Thin Client, and you can read all about it at sun.com/sunray and you can buy them in the on-line Sun Store.

And to his heart's second desire:

Why are we wedded to a windows-menus-mouse interface that is flat, as if it were stuck to the back of the screen, when computers are easily powerful enough to turn the screen into a viewport that lets us "peer through it" into an imaginary 3-D landscape? (Information can be more clearly and effectively arranged in a 3-D space than on a restricted flat surface.)

We don't actually sell this in the Sun Store. We've open sourced it! Check out Project Looking Glass by Sun Microsystems: A Revolutionary Evolution of Today's Desktop, and if you want to see what it looks like, here are some screenshots.

So instead of sending a wish list off to IBM via the Wall Street Journal, check out what Sun has to offer today.

Glinda: That's all it is!
Scarecrow: But that's so easy! I should have thought of it for you.
Tin Man: I should have felt it in my heart.
Glinda: No. She had to find it out for herself. Now, those magic slippers will take you home in two seconds!
Dorothy: Oh... Toto, too?
Glinda: Toto, too.
Dorothy: Oh, now?
Glinda: Whenever you wish.
Dorothy: Oh, dear -- that's too wonderful to be true!

Nah. It's just what we do.

Thursday Sep 30, 2004

A Step In The Right Direction!

I know, I know -- I owe you a full accounting of last week's adventures. I'll get there! But in the mean time, there's been some good news. One of the Senators whose offices we visited last week, Majority Leader Bill Frist, has written a letter to SEC Chairman William Donaldson, in response to Donaldson's letter of August 19.

Majority Leader Frist writes:

I was particularly interested in the discussion at the conclusion of your letter about the possible need for the SEC to issue guidance, safe harbors, or a delay in the implementation date. I would hope that the SEC would use these tools, and take the appropriate time necessary, to fully flesh out the many critical issues surrounding the implementation of a [stock option] valuation standard.

Devising an accurate valuation model is critical to our economy, the investing public, and the more than 14 million American workers who hold stock options. I feel strongly that options are vital to preserving American innovation and enterpreneurship, but I also recognize that we must ensure that investors receive accurate, reliable, and transparent financial information. Given your ultimate authority over financial reporting and accounting standards, the SEC is best suited to conduct appropriate testing and determine the best method or methods to value employee stock options."

I'd like to express my thanks and appreciation to Rohit Kumar and Libby Jarvis, from Majority Leader Frist's staff, for taking the time not only to listen to us last week, but to really hear what we were saying. And obviously, to share it with their boss.

Saturday Sep 25, 2004

This Is The Week That Was

My apologies for going dark there for a while -- it's been crazy busy, and it's all good.

Last Tuesday, while Sun rocked Wall Street with the best products, services and solutions for demanding customers, I was a few hundred miles south, trying to talk some sense into the Senate as FASB's plans to require the expensing of stock options move forward.

What FASB is proposing to do is wrong, for three reasons.

First, they're purportedly going after stock options because they want to crack down on robber baron CEO's who pillage their shareholders and employees and walk away rich. In fact, requiring the expensing of stock options will hurt rank-and-file employees, who in Sun's case, get 87% of the options granted (data from FY98-02). Not to mention hurting the economy, as mucho taxes are paid and proceeds are spent when the options are eventually cashed in.

Second, the valuation models FASB is offering up produce bogus results. If you can predict the value of a share of stock five years into the future... call me! Neither of us will need options, and FASB can do what it wills. Otherwise, it's a S.W.A.G. In fact, because low-priced stock options are more likely to make money than high-priced stock options -- my Sun options at $40/share are likely to expire before they're ever worth a dime, whereas the ones at $4/share are looking pretty good -- S.W.A.G. doesn't even begin to cover it. I'm thinking of a compound adjective that ends in -backwards.

Finally, and this is pretty basic accounting -- kind of amazing FASB doesn't get it -- stock options represent diluted shareholder equity. The company is worth X dollars, divided by Y shares: so the equity represented by each share is X/Y. As you give out more shares, the equity in each share is reduced. That's why our shareholders are required to approve stock option plans, and are making the informed business decision that incenting the workforce in this way -- making us shareholders with them, in the same boat -- will ultimately provide better returns for all. According to FASB, however, stock option grants are operating expenses which must be applied to the balance sheet on the date they're given. As if the company paid them out in cash.

Trust me, those options at $40/share -- I'd a rather been paid out in cash. But I wasn't. And they didn't cost the company a dime to give out, and will never cost the company a dime. Charging our balance sheet hundreds of thousands of dollars for them -- back in 2000, when I first got them and no one knew where they'd go -- is just crazy. Crazy.

Anyway, that was the message -- I'll be back shortly to tell you how it went!

Thursday Sep 16, 2004

Mr. Smith Goes (Back) To Washington

Expensing Options: A Reprieve?
BusinessWeek Online, 9/16/04; Amy Borrus

"Solof will be singing options' praises on Capitol Hill on Sept. 21 as part of an 11th-hour lobbying blitz by the tech industry."

Read all about it!

Thursday Jul 22, 2004

Good News on the Stock Options Front

One of my first postings here was a (okay, long) diatribe against the mandatory expensing of stock options. We got some good news on this front on Tuesday, when the House of Representatives voted 312-111 in favor of the Stock Option Accounting Reform Act of 2003 (HR 3574), a bill which would delay and mitigate the impact of proposed regulations from the Federal Accounting Standards Board (FASB).

There were many good write ups on this, including articles in the San Francisco Chronicle ("House OKs measure to shield stock options") and USA Today ("Tech lobbyists applaud House stock-options vote").

This is, however, just the first hurdle. Senator Richard Shelby, chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Alan Greenspan, Warren Buffet, and other influencial parties have expressed opposition to interfering with the FASB regulation, and passage through the Senate, much less presidential signature into law, are far from given. But it is a big step -- an overwhelming, bi-partisan majority in the House -- in the right direction. Kudos to House Capital Markets Subcommittee Chairman Richard H. Baker (R-LA) and Representative Anna Eshoo (D-CA) for their leadership on this issue.

I had the opportunity to hear Congressman Baker speak during my trip to Washington this spring, and he was extremely impressive. (I'd say that regardless of his position on expensing.) He was a very bright, forthright guy -- the kind of person you're glad to see in government, the kind of person you hope will run for national office someday.

To see how your representative voted on HR 3574, you can check this roll call published by the House of Representatives.

Saturday Jul 03, 2004

Java really is everywhere!

You won't see it in the on-line version of the article at msnbc.msn.com (I wonder why?), but if you have a copy of the June 28 Newsweek on hand, check out the special section on China. Scott's friend Steve is on the front page of the section, and on page E12, there's a big picture of Timothy Chen, the new CEO of Microsoft China. Wearing what is unmistakably a JavaCard around his neck. Maybe he just got back from SunNetwork Shanghai, who knows? In any event... Java is everywhere!

Okay, now I have to go back to the bathr... library.

Sorry, too much information, I know.

Monday Jun 28, 2004

There's Something About Mary's Camera

Hey, y'all who are at JavaOne this week, I'm sorry I'll miss you! But please do keep your eyes open for Mary, and let me know if she's blonde again or anything. It's the "or anything" part that scares me.

I bought her a new camera so she should be able to post some great pics from the show.

Whoops. I see that she has -- just that they're huge. Temporary technical difficulties, I'm sure.

For my part, I'm working on a fun blurb -- not quite as much fun as the child sacrifice book review, but equally riveting theologically, I can assure you.

Stay tuned, and tell Mary I said hey!

Jeff

Thursday Jun 24, 2004

Toto, I don't think we're in California anymore!

A couple of months ago, Sun won a Global Innovators Award from CoreNet, an association for corporate real estate, for its iWork program. iWork is a set of technologies and practices that enable Sun employees to "effectively work anywhere, anytime, on any device." This is a big deal for employees trying to manage the work-life balance thing. Back when I worked for Apple Computer in Boston, I'd have to drive 10 minutes to the commuter rail station the next town over, spend an hour on the train to North Station, and then walk 15 minutes to the office in the Financial District. (Uphill both ways, through six feet of snow. Or so I'd tell my kids... ;\*) Add waiting times -- you don't want to miss the train -- and you're talking better than three hours a day of more or less wasted time. Sure, cell phones and iPods can help you make the most of a bad situation -- but nobody would argue with its ontological badness.

iWork is also a big deal for Sun, since you don't need to provide cushy (costly) facilities for people who are working from home. Even if they work just a couple of days per week from home, you can picture an environment where, say, 5 people only need 3 offices. You just cut your real estate needs by 40%. That's a made up statistic; the real deal is that Sun can save on the order of $100 million per year in reduced real estate costs and increased productivity. $100 million straight to the bottom line is not just a good thing; it is a beautiful thing.

There are a few things to keep in mind, though, when you're not sitting down the hall from the people you work with on a daily basis. A few of us got together this past week -- in person -- and identified three issues remote workers can face, whether remote means east coast/west coast, or home/office: any more than a few feet away, and you're at least a little remote! We also came up with ways to address these issues, to make the remote thing work better for everybody: the employee, the team, and the company.

First, there is no substitute for face-to-face relationships. You don't always have to be physically present with your boss or your co-workers, but if you're never hanging out with them, it'll wind up costing you in the long run. You have to bite the bullet and do some amount of travelling, whether that means coming to the office once a week for staff meetings, or flying to California once a quarter to hang out with your teammates. One thing I've learned from being 2,704 miles (what I get on American flying from BOS to SFO) from HQ: if you invest in a fair amount of face time up front, you can dial it down over time without negative consequence. Now, you need to turn the travel back up anytime you get a new job, a new boss, or a new team -- but once you've built good, trusting relationships with the people who are a big part of your work life, you can be almost as effective from a distance. I have (awesome) employees in New York, Washington DC, San Diego, and Bellevue WA who are living proof that this is so.

Second, "out of sight, out of mind" is human nature. And you can't change human nature. People will always tend to think of the folks they see every day before they think of the ones they don't. You can, however, put good practices in place to make work work better for everybody. These include more formal practices like building "roundtables" into your staff meeting agendas, so everybody on the team gets a chance to hear about what everybody else is working on, and scheduling regular 1:1 meetings with all your employees to work on development plans and goal setting; as well as simple things like repeating questions from the audience when you're running a meeting and you have people on the phone, and remembering to say which slide you're on when you're presenting, so the remote folks can keep up with you.

Finally, cool techno tools can solve some problems, but not all. Big and formal applications like portals and collaboration services, and simple tools like instant messaging, can help keep the whole team in touch and in sync -- but only if everybody uses them. You can't have an on-line chat if you're the only one on-line. (Alright you can, but it's weird. Trust me on this one.) Replicating the informal give-and-take of hallway conversations is the toughest thing to pull off, and perhaps tools like internal blogs can help. It's easy enough to get the latest version of a presentation or feature story -- what I really want to know is what kind of mood the boss is in today. Anon-o-blogs. You heard it here first.

If you have other tips or techniques to help make the anywhere/anytime thing work better, call a meeting! Just don't schedule it for Friday at 2 PM Pacific, if you please.

Saturday Jun 19, 2004

Java Inside and Outside your Cell Phone

My team and I are preparing to cover the 2004 JavaOne Conference, which is coming up next week (June 28 - July 1) in San Francisco.  In talking about my cell phone in yesterday's entry, I neglected to mention that both my current phone (the Nokia 3560) and the new one I'm lusting after (the Sony Ericsson T637) are Java-enabled.  You don't want to buy a phone these days that's not.

On the fun side, there are a gazillion games catalogued at java.com; I've got Snood and Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell on my phone.  (Snood, by the way, I have installed on every device of mine that will have it, including my Palm Pilot.  There's no better way to pass the time if you're stuck in... anything. :)

And on the useful side, there's Cingular Wireless's Voice Connect service, for which I will happily pay $4.99 per month for the rest of my cell-phoning life.  This is great technology from BeVocal, a managed VoiceXML solution that runs on Sun hardware, the Solaris Operating System, and Sun Java System software.  There's a full write-up available for anybody who wants more information.

Here's what's so cool about it.

Whenever I'd get a new cell phone (I upgrade every couple of years), I'd have to spend weeks re-loading all my contact info into the new phone.  If I stuck with one manufacturer, and if that manufacturer provided reasonable I/O on the phone, it was possible to do the backup/restore thing -- but that serendipity's occurred only once for me.  And dialing was still a matter of trying to scroll through the phone book whilst not rear-ending the guy in front of me in Boston traffic, a dicey proposition under the best of circumstances.

With Voice Connect, all my contact info is stored on a secure server that I can't lose, drop, or run over.  I maintain the info via a conduit on my Pilot HotSync app; whenever I add, change, or delete an entry on my Pilot, it's updated on the Voice Connect system.  Couldn't be easier -- and I can change phones once a week, and my contact info will always be there for me.

The really cool part is how you access it.  You hit a speed-dial button on your phone, wait for the Voice Connect tones, and then say something like "Call MaryMary on her cell phone."  Voice Connect replies "Dialing...", and next thing you know, I'm talking to my friend.  I don't have to record her name, train the system on my voice, anything like that -- because the system simply has to figure out which of the relatively few and very discrete names I'm saying, not interpret an infinite number of possibilities.  If I have 200 names in my phonebook, it only has to pick the best match among the 200, which turns out to be a task it can manage with nearly 100% success.  The only trouble I've run into is at the airport, outside, trying to call the limo company -- it's so bloody noisy there, the system has a hard time hearing what I'm saying.  That's one instance where it may make sense to program a number directly into your phone.

The only other caveat, in the spirit of full disclosure, is that the HotSync conduit requires a Windows box for syncing.  You can manage your Voice Connect address book manually from any web browser, but if you want to do the Palm thing, you have to use a PC.  Proving that they are, in fact, good for something.  :)

Cingular adds more features to Voice Connect all the time.  There's the "Joke of the Day" service, if you're so inclined.  You can ask for a wake up call, and they'll phone you up to three times at whatever time you specify.  Best of all is their new "Escape-a-Date" service.  "Need a way out of a boring meeting or a blind date gone bad?  Just call Voice Connect and we'll get you out of it!"  What could be better than that?!

Tuesday Jun 15, 2004

Mandatory Expensing of Stock Options

I've been spending some time, over the past few months, arguing against the mandatory expensing of stock options, which FASB is proposing to require in the very near future.

I travelled to Washington at the end of March to meet with a number of congressmen and women as part of the AeA's Stock Option "Fly-In", wrote a letter to the Director of FASB (see text below), and even got interviewed for a couple of snappy articles by TheStreet.com's K.C. Swanson: Workers Give Up Get-Rich Dreams, Still Value Stock Options and Silicon Valley Loses the Keystone of a Golden Age.

If you feel as strongly about this issue as I do, I'd encourage you to go to SaveStockOptions.org and do your bit to help!


Subject: File Reference No. 1102-100
From:    Jeff Solof 
Date:    Thu, 27 May 2004 10:15:21 -0400
To:      director@fasb.org

Dear Sir,

I am writing in regard to file reference number 1102-100, to express my strong opposition to the mandatory expensing of stock options.

Stock options, which are broadly distributed at Sun Microsystems -- over the past five years, 87% of all options have been granted to employees below the rank of Vice President -- provide a number of powerful benefits to the company and its shareholders. They incent entrepreneurial behavior: my options are only valuable to the extent that the company grows and prospers, which means that all my efforts are directed to this end. They incent long-term commitment: because they vest over a five-year period, I am much more interested in sticking with the company over the long-haul, versus flitting from employer to employer based on the best short-term compensation package. Particularly in volatile economic times, their long-term potential balances the short-term risk particular companies, like Sun, face in particular industries, like high-tech. Stock options keep me in my seat, working hard for the company's long-term benefit -- which, in fact, aligns my interests 100% with those of our shareholders. Stock options make this company my company, and its success, my success. There is no more powerful tool to accomplish this. (To the suggestion that shares of stock, rather than stock options be granted: shares of stock have value whether the company prospers or fails to prosper. Stock options, conversely, have no value unless the company grows.)

Some have written to you, I am sure, describing how much stock options mean to them personally. The stories of secretaries-turned-millionaires are heartwarming, I'm sure. But what do my personal interests mean to you, to Sun shareholders, to tax payers, to the citizens of our country? What should they mean? In this free market economy, not much. What is important to all of these constituencies, however -- what is absolutely vital -- is the economic competitiveness of our country, and our country's high-tech industry, which represents the leading edge and engine of our economy. Mandatory expensing of stock options will make otherwise profitable companies appear unprofitable to the average investor. Capital will flee to global competitors who are not required to treat options as an expense. And as global competitors will be able to provide much more compelling long-term incentives to employees, particularly in the high-tech industry, where stock options have been a staple for many years, our best and brightest talent will sign on to work for them rather than for the US companies which, heretofore, have been at the head of this vitally important, strategic industry. We've seen manufacturing jobs leave our shores; high-tech jobs will follow en masse if others can offer long-term incentives we no longer can.

I am also quite concerned as to the methodology you are proposing for calculating stock option-related expenses. To give you one example from my tenure at Sun, my first two option grants, in the spring of 2000, were originally projected to be worth $138,000 and $144,000, respectively, after five years. Specifically, I received 3,000 options at a strike price of $46, and 3,600 options at a strike price of $40. Sun used an estimated projection of 15% compound annual growth rate in the stock price to show a doubling in share price over the course of the five year vesting period, which resulted in these values. Today, our stock price is hovering around $4 per share, and it's unlikely that these options will ever be worth anything before they expire at the end of eight years. So what is the right way to expense them? At $282,000? At $0? With no facility for true-ing up the actual value of the options when they're exercised, this attempt to provide financial transparency will in fact make financial statements more arbitrary and disconnected from reality. The reality is, in fact, that stock option grants represent a dilution of shareholder value -- which dilution is currently reported as it should be, rather than treated as a hard expense.

I understand your desire to provide this additional transparency -- and would assert that this is the wrong way to accomplish this goal. And I certainly understand your desire to prevent more egregious episodes of executive greed and malfeasance. But I would assert that requiring the expensing of broad-based stock options is again, the wrong way to accomplish this goal. And that it will hurt our high-tech industry, our national competitiveness, and the shareholders of our companies, whose interests are best served by a highly-talented workforce whose interests are 100% aligned with their own.

I ask you to withdraw or substantially modify your proposal to address these issues, and thank you for your consideration.

Regards,

Jeffrey R. Solof

--

----------------------------------------------------------------
Jeff Solof                        Sun Microsystems, Inc.
Director, Editorial Office        1 Network Drive, MS UBUR02-203
Global Communications             Burlington, MA 01803-2757
direct: +1 781 442-0224           internal: x20224
fax:    +1 781 993-1027           mailto:jeff.solof@sun.com
mobile: +1 508 783-8394           http://www.sun.com/


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