It Was Twenty Years Ago Today....

Yes indeed, it was. Twenty years ago today I started work at Sun. I was just a kid fresh out of college. Sun offered me a great opportunity: to work on NeWS with James Gosling. Along the way I had a bunch of other great opportunities (some taken, some not) and here we are, in a blink of an eye, twenty years later!

I suppose it's obligatory for me to offer some then-and-now comparisons.

Obviously the company has changed a lot since 1986. It wasn't that small when I joined (probably a little over 2,000 employees) but it was growing furiously. There have been lots of ups and downs with the stock price, revenue, market share, and four rounds of layoffs since then. But we're growing again, at least a little bit.

Hardware has changed a lot too. The personal computing revolution was just underway. The PC, Mac, Commodore, Atari etc. were just toys. But "real" personal computers were engineering workstations, which was Sun's business at the time. Most of the others are gone now, but the PC and the Mac are still there. Sun still has a workstation business but it's pretty small. And of course everything is bigger and faster. It's expected for every office worker to have a laptop or a desktop PC.

Software has also changed of course. Back then we were building new window systems, which were a research area. Now there are about three: Windows, Macintosh, and X. There were also lots of operating systems. Now there are basically two: Windows and variants of Unix. (Yeah, there are quite a number of embedded OSes, but I'm talking about desktops here.) By contrast, the number of programming languages in widespread use seems to have proliferated. There have always been lots of research languages, but one now encounters many more languages on a daily basis, especially scripting languages. It's a challenge to keep up.

There has been another, quieter personal computing revolution.

The computer I use every day is a Macintosh PowerBook G4, 1.25GHz, 1GB memory, and 80GB hard disk. It's a few years, old, and somewhat pedestrian by today's standards. The computer I did most of my work on in the early days was a Sun-3/160 with a 68020 running at 16.7MHz, 4MB memory, and 71MB disk. (I started with a Sun-2 but I got upgraded pretty quickly.) Compared to then, my current computer has nearly 100x the clock speed, 250x the memory, and over 1000x the disk space. But this is all pretty obvious.

The big difference is that I own my own computer.

In fact, I own or at least control my own computing infrastructure. I have DSL, a firewall/router/wireless box, and several devices attached to my home network. This too is fairly pedestrian by today's standards, and it's not at all uncommon.

The difference is that for pretty much anything computing-related, it's affordable for me to do it myself. Back in 1986 if you wanted to do some number-crunching, store a lot of files, transfer something large from the internet, or print something with laser quality, you had to go into work to do it. Nowadays this is no longer necessary.

In fact, sometimes things are better at home. If I need a scan or a color printout, it's much easier at home. It's not that we don't have scanners or color printers at work, it's just that you have to track one down, get permission, figure out how to use it, etc. It's much easier for me to do it at home. My network isn't as fast as work's, but sometimes I get better connectivity. Sun's firewall blocks a lot of ports. Sometimes I can't things to work through the proxy. Or if I can get it to work, it kinda sucks.

So that's the biggest difference I see: the ability to control one's own computing infrastructure being affordable and commonplace.

Now, how to wrap this up? I started with a song lyric, so I guess I'll finish up with a song lyric. I can't decide on one so I'll just list a few that popped into my head, and you can choose:

  • The long and winding road... [OK, it's a cliche]
  • What a long, strange trip it's been [Sorry, another cliche]
  • Twenty-first century schizoid man [???]



Woah. I'm 10 years at Sun today(ish) - I'm honestly looking forward to the next 10 years, whatever happens, it'll be far from dull :-)

Posted by Tim Foster on October 06, 2006 at 08:47 AM PDT #

congrats s'mark! nice milestone.

Posted by james on October 06, 2006 at 10:47 AM PDT #

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