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Ex-Sun CEO Warns Oracle of Death By Open Source 408

Posted by timothy
from the everyone's-got-a-narrative dept.
gearystwatcher writes "Former Sun CEO Scott McNealy talks to The Reg on where things went wrong, and acquisition by Oracle: 'We probably got a little too aggressive near the end and probably open sourced too much and tried too hard to appease the community and tried too hard to share,' McNealy said. 'You gotta take care of your shareholders or you end up very vulnerable like we got. We were a wonderful acquisition — we got stolen for a song at the bottom of the Dow.'"
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Ex-Sun CEO Warns Oracle of Death By Open Source

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  • by xtracto (837672) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:08AM (#34485334) Journal

    Definitely, if all the valuable assets of your business is in software (Solaris, StarOffice, Java, etc) and you give away such software for free then your business does not make sense at all.

    • by vlm (69642) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:15AM (#34485374)

      Definitely, if all the valuable assets of your business is in software (Solaris, StarOffice, Java, etc) and you give away such software for free then your business does not make sense at all.

      Those "valuable assets" of the business are now worth nothing, better free alternatives exist. The part that doesn't make sense is not successfully moving onward to a consultative / training / services based business structure.

      • by Anrego (830717) * on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:32AM (#34485494)

        I'd say Java was pretty valuable. Love or hate Java, it's used all over the place.

        They just never figured out a way to turn that mass user base into serious profit without losing their users.

        • It seemed to me that Java was one of Sun's biggest problems. Sun managed Java badly, and that bad management was very bad public relations.
        • by marcosdumay (620877) <marcosdumay&gmail,com> on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:40AM (#34485576) Homepage Journal

          That is the point. Java is only valuable begause it is given away for free. If Sun (or Oracle now) tried to sell it, it would be nearly worthless.

          • by spydum (828400) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @10:12AM (#34485840)

            I think this is best demonstrated by BEA/Oracle JRockit. Nobody every bought JRockit as a stand alone replacement for HotSpot. It pretty much only used when packaged with BEA/Oracle Weblogic. Doesn't matter that it had some really cool hooks into Mission Control, and JMX extensions (which java eventually caught up to).

          • by erroneus (253617) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @10:53AM (#34486506) Homepage

            True that. It is hard for me to imagine a world where people would have jumped onto that bandwagon if it weren't free. Well, actually, yes I can. Sun needed a strategic partner from the earliest stages to adopt and build with Java some amazing products. (And give it to them free at the time, and at a price for everyone else.) And once one or more killer apps gained traction, others would naturally follow. I think Sun depended too heavily on the draw of "free" as a substitute for good marketing. Free is good in small doses. Free is also good if you already have a product that requires its use.

            Another thing is that the JVM and the Java language are rather closely related. While I am pretty sure there are compilers that will compile other languages into Java byte code, I suspect it isn't done all that frequently. This places a burden on everyone to "port" their code to run on the JVM rather than just compile existing code to run there. I am sure someone will point out that I don't know what I am talking about -- I don't exactly. This is just based on the outside of what I know. I know that I haven't heard anything about people running anything other than Java programs on a JVM even though I can easily imagine otherwise.

          • That is the point. Java is only valuable begause it is given away for free.

            Not quite. If it were valuable, people would wilingly pay for it, and Sun/Oracle would have made a monumental error in not charging money for it. Java is useful. The challenge is to get people to pay money for it, or in some other way to cough up cash as a result of using Java. Do that, and it's also valuable.

      • Bingo. IT is a service business now. Gerstner saw that in the 1990's. You may have some core products, whether they be software/hardware, and hire people to develop those products, but the money is in services. Sun never stopped being a traditional hardware/business. Interestingly enough it took someone from outside of technology to see that for IBM.

        • by wizbit (122290)

          somebody should tell that to Apple, who still seems to be carving out a pretty decent living as a software/hardware company.

          selling lots of stuff on iTunes, yes, but making a mint on their hardware, as they always have.

          • by Dog-Cow (21281)

            Apple is not an IT company, and never really has been. Today, they are a consumer electronics company that also makes computers.

            • by wizbit (122290)

              never has been? i suppose the iMac was a disaster for them then?

              not now? perhaps they should stop making iMacs, powermacs, macbooks, macbook pros, and macbook airs.

              their growth markets are consumer electronics but this doesn't make them a consumer electronics company anymore than microsoft making the zune and xbox discounts their enormous software and services lineup.

            • So the company that owns CUPS, created WebKit(the basis for Safari and Chrome), is the largest distributor of UNIX in the world, and nearly singlehandedly crafted the digital media revolution isn't an IT company?!? It isn't Apple's fault that they're also making money faster than they can count it. OK, it actually is their fault, but that shouldn't be held against them. There is nothing in the rule book that says an IT company can't also be successful. Just because they've managed to figure out how to p
      • Can you name a good free cross-plaform office suit? (Openoffice grew out of the opensourced Staroffice.)

        • by vlm (69642)

          Can you name a good free cross-plaform office suit? (Openoffice grew out of the opensourced Staroffice.)

          docs.google.com

          • by Paul Jakma (2677)

            That answer is correct if your parent meant free as in beer, but incorrect if they meant free as in freedom.

          • Google Docs doesn't allow import and conversion of documents or spreadsheets larger than 1MB. That's pathetically small.
        • by Kjella (173770) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @10:29AM (#34486084) Homepage

          Can you name a good free cross-plaform office suit?

          From the first hit on "plaform":

          Plaform is an integrated and sustainable corrugated cardboard packaging system for fruits and vegetables

          While I suppose you could make a suit out of it, I'm not sure why you'd want to...

      • by xtracto (837672) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @10:11AM (#34485820) Journal

        Exactly, and part of the reason the free alternatives exist is because Sun made them free (e.g. Openoffice, or Java open-source friendliness).

        What Sun failed to do when open-sourcing their "valuable software assets" was to establish a business plan to go with it. RedHat has a business plan related to go with their open-source Linux distributions; IBM has a business plan to go with their Eclipse open-source software... Sun? even though I like them a lot ... it is true that they were not business sound from a long time.

        They had the complete vertical stack (hardware [Sparc], middleware [Java] and software [Solaris] and services [cloud services]) but never really came up with a business plan.

        Again, it has been really good for us (the open source community, free software advocates) but it was terrible for the economic viability of the Sun corporation (thus resulting in its end).

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by PORNorART (1949708)

        "Those "valuable assets" of the business are now worth nothing, better free alternatives exist."

        I use and like linux and I'm not trying to bash it but I like Solaris a lot more expecially since Solaris 10. In my tests it was faster and easier to manage for the things I needed to do and had features that helped it be that way before linux was able to catch up and in some areas, even so many years later the catch up features aren't quite there yet in linux.

        I'm going to miss OpenSolaris (and still am uncertain about the forks) but Solaris offers a lot of value in the data center.

        McNeally admits they made

    • by mrcaseyj (902945) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:17AM (#34485388)

      Sun just couldn't compete with Linux and Intel. Open sourcing wasn't the problem. It probably helped, just not enough.

      • Even Intel(in their IA64 division, mostly sold by HP in end-user-product form) is having a hard time competing with linux and intel(in their AMD64 iWhatever/Xeon form, as sold by basically everybody) and Intel's doomed architecture even has the advantage of Intel's incredible manufacturing prowess...
      • by Deviate_X (578495)

        Sun just couldn't compete with Linux and Intel. Open sourcing wasn't the problem. It probably helped, just not enough.

        It also didn't help that Sun at the height of its super-inflated-stock-price (and P/E) imagined it was leading some kind of epic battle with the Microsoft "empire".

        • Did you read the article or any history of the Microsoft/Sun legal battles?

          Sun wasn't battling Microsoft because they were bored. When Sun first came out with Solaris for x86 in the 90's they decided to not produce or sell their own x86 hardware, instead they partnered with the big server vendors to sell and support Solaris x86 on their hardware.

          I remember working on Compaq servers back then that had Solaris as an option for the OS in the BIOS.

          The problem was that Microsoft had a stronghold over the likes o

    • Sun should not be charging for their software.

      They can make their money on performances and T-Shirts.

      • by vlm (69642)

        Sun should not be charging for their software.

        They can make their money on performances and T-Shirts.

        Performing training classes, and perform consultative services. Is / was Sun THE place to go to hire a java consultant code monkey? If not, why not? Imagine if Sun as headhunter could have skimmed just one percent of the salary of every java code monkey out there. I would guess the "owners" of a product could pull in perhaps 10% of the total service market without even trying, imagine 10% of all Java code money salaries. Whom better to buy services from, than the folks whom own it?

        T-Shirts with stuff w

    • by kiwix (1810960)

      What you're missing is that those assets become much more valuation after they had been open sourced.

      In particular, StarOffice bacame widespread only after it was open source and renamed OpenOffice.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Definitely, if all the valuable assets of your business is in software (Solaris, StarOffice, Java, etc) and you give away such software for free then your business does not make sense at all.

      Where Sun went wrong was in not having open sourced these earlier. They messed around with Solaris, withdrawing the free (as in beer) x86 version at one point. Uncertainty wasn't exactly giving potential customers the "warm fuzzies" required to invest in Sparc hardware (we were evaluating Solaris on x86 at that time).

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @10:22AM (#34485960) Journal
      Obviously I'm not Sun's ex-CEO; but in watching Sun over time, their problem seemed to be less with OSS and more with a complete lack of any clue as to how OSS fit in with their strategy.

      Clearly, you can't run a business with expenses and shareholders and stuff on puppies and altruism; but there are a good number of circumstances where investments in OSS fit within a larger profit-making strategy(generally when your core business is hardware or consulting, or where you are trying to spike a competitor's profitable software business so that they can't use the profits from it to crush you in your profit center).

      Sun, on the other hand, kind of tacked back and forth with no clear direction. One day, it'd be "Java will be open, to encourage even more mass adoption, and pricey SPARC gear will be the premiere architecture upon which to run JVMs!" The next day, "Thanks to OpenSolaris, our superior Solaris technology will roxxor your linux, even on commodity intel silicon, thus totally gutting our SPARC line that we were enthusiastic about yesterday!".

      It could also be that, when you come right down to it, OSS is mostly a nonissue in Sun's declining fortunes. The moment AMD introduced 64-bit X86 extensions to save themselves from Intel's IA64 squeeze plan, most of the remaining "custom UNIX on fancy architecture" vendors cried out in terror and were slowly suffocated. SGI was gutted and sold, Sun twisted around for a while and was gutted and sold, IBM remains strong in mainframes and consulting; but their x86s are nothing special and POWER is pretty niche(the workstations are dead, some servers still survive).

      Had Sun been less OSS friendly, they quite possibly could have wound down their operations into a smallish but profitable legacy/consulting/niche hardware outfit, rather than being sold off; but their real problem(and that of companies in a similar position) seems to have been Intel's massive capacity to fab cheap AMD64 chips on a very aggressive schedule, along with the existence of a "good enough and really cheap, unixlike OS". Even Chipzilla's own precious IA64 has been largely murdered by this development, and that is Intel's own baby...

      Sun might have extracted a bit more value had they realized earlier that marketshare may not be worth the price and done some gouging while they still could; but I'm not sure that minor changes vs. OSS could really have saved them...
      • by drinkypoo (153816)

        "Thanks to OpenSolaris, our superior Solaris technology will roxxor your linux, even on commodity intel silicon, thus totally gutting our SPARC line that we were enthusiastic about yesterday!".

        OpenSolaris and indeed Solaris x86 in general was Sun's attempt to apprehend reality, in which the SPARC is going away. They failed. They went away. We'll see what happens with Oracle.

      • by Daniel Phillips (238627) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @11:38AM (#34487354)

        Sun bought Cobalt, a successful Linux server business, and instead of capitalizing on it, buried it. That alone is worth the corporate death penalty. If Sun had swallowed their pride and put their weight fully behind their Linux server business they would now own a serious share of the world's server rooms, not to mention the personal server business. Consider: Red Hat's market cap is now over 9 billion, and that without any hardware offering. How on earth did Sun miss the party?

        The weirdest thing is, Larry Ellison fully intends to continue the idiocy of shoving Solaris and Sparc down the throats of customers who don't want it. The inevitable result couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

      • by mlts (1038732) * on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @12:12PM (#34488022)

        What Oracle should have done is start hitting the R&D, and start offering SPARC and x86 hardware with enterprise friendly features. Open-sourcing Solaris would get more people onto that environment, be it college students, or others who want to test stuff out.

        If Oracle hardware supported even a fraction of some of these, they would still be head to head with IBM for the enterprise market, and not being squeezed in a vise with IBM hardware (zSeries and pSeries) on the high end, and commodity x86 on the low end:

        1: ZFS. ZFS could have sold Oracle hardware once it started being able to handle the enterprise slings and arrows. Sun could have added hooks for hardware, so things like rebuilding a failed HDD could be done on a lower level and not bother the CPU with I/O.

        2: VM capabilities. Zones and LDoms should be an integral part of the hardware a long time ago, as it is on the IBM POWER7s. Add hooks for moving VMs between physical machines while the VM is still running (vMotion essentially), and high availability, and this will bring the enterprise dollars.

        3: Get college friendly, like the Sun of old. The students who imprint on the Oracle hardware with day to day work will be the ones speccing out the big machines later on in life.

        4: Start making backend systems with applications where there is a need. For example, a way to get some type of solution that is 100% compatible with Exchange. This way, E-mail and messaging can run on SPARC hardware, and that would get it into enterprises where only x86 machines go now. Another example is document management, like Adobe's LiveCycle. Hardware will not sell unless it has applications on it. Databases are just one facet of enterprise computing.

        5: Differentiate from x86 hardware. IBM does this by having reliability as one of their selling points. It isn't uncommon to see 99.999% uptime on POWER hardware, and mainframes pretty much guarantee this.

        6: Start working on more R&D with Internet protocols. Sun pioneered the landscape with NIS, NIS+, NFS, and many other protocols. Most are antiquated now, but they were better than nothing.

        7: Start doing security innovations. For example, consider having NIC cards that have independent packet filters in them. This way, an attacker would have to compromise the NIC card (with a hardened hardware attack surface) before they could get access to the machine. DoS attacks could be handled by the NICs leaving the machine unscathed. More points if an IDS/IPS is built in. Solaris has come a long way with regards to security, but it doesn't hurt to keep advancing.

        8: Work on new hardware projects. Take IBM's ZTIC. This is a simple device, but greatly ups the ante on bank fraud and ID theft. Oracle needs to work on projects like that.

  • Blame open-source (Score:4, Insightful)

    by HuguesT (84078) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:10AM (#34485342)

    Right, the only mistake Sun did was open-source too much. Like all the closed shop were doing wonderfully well too.

    Thanks Sun.

    • by guruevi (827432) <evi@@@smokingcube...be> on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:22AM (#34485416) Homepage

      The mistake they made was that they forgot (or didn't know how) to monetize the open source solutions they had. OpenSolaris was great, Java was great, OpenOffice was great but there was no option to buy support or custom development for those products. The only way was to go with closed Solaris and StarOffice which were quite different products and required IT folks to migrate. Basically they pushed OpenSolaris as a development vehicle for their closed Solaris which made for a bunch of OpenSolaris installs way ahead and more feature-rich (patch-wise) than Solaris, migrating back was a pain (or impossible if you upgraded your ZFS pools), installing Sun software on it was a pain.

      If anything I would say they didn't open source enough of their products for it to be a success. OpenSolaris would've been great in a well-marketed product like Nexenta did - take the closed source out of it, allow for the great amount of Linux software to run directly on it and make it easy as Ubuntu. But their stock repositories were crap and hard to find requiring signing up to get keys or stick to the handful of community repos. Their HA and Storage solutions are still the best you can find in the market but again, hard to install on OpenSolaris and not very compatible with other software and systems.

      Their hardware was also overpriced which pushed them right out of the market. I can understand the higher pricing on their SPARC products but not for their generic x86 systems.

      • Re:Blame open-source (Score:5, Interesting)

        by thomst (1640045) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:57AM (#34485712) Homepage

        The mistake they made was that they forgot (or didn't know how) to monetize the open source solutions they had.

        Absolutely wrong.

        The mistake McNealy made was in refusing to adapt Sun's business model of selling ridiculously-overpriced proprietary hardware with obscene profit margins in an increasingly-commodotized, increasingly-Intel/AMD CISC-centered marketplace for far longer than was sustainable. It's the classic Wang/DEC/WordPerfect business model error - stick your fingers in your ears, squeeze your eyelids shut, and go "Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah!" at the top of your voice, and just keep on keepin' on, while the dominant paradigm shifts around you.

        • by xtracto (837672)

          Well, I think both you and GP are right to a degree.

          Sun did failed to establish competitive solutions (and thus monetize) using the assets they had (open source software, hardware, etc).

          Instead, they got stuck on their relatively expensive hardware and as you childishly put it stick your fingers in your ears, squeeze your eyelids shut, and go "Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah!" at the top of your voice, and just keep on keepin' on,.

          A good CEO would have identified potential business opportunities to leverage (gosh I

      • by afidel (530433)
        Their x86 servers were right in line with HP and IBM, the difference was the cost of the support contract which was just insane with Sun. Given the fact that they had no desktop or laptop line and didn't have a useful storage line there was very little cross sell so unless you were a legacy SPARC/Solaris shop there was little reason to pick Sun over HP/IBM/Dell. Heck these days I think Cisco has a more compelling story in the x86 space!
        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          To be fair, Sun did buy a company with a credible storage offering. Then they ruined the product, refused to market it, nominally refused to sell it, end-of-life'd most of the products people were actually using, and finally fired everyone who understood it.

          • by afidel (530433)
            Loved their tape robots (still do actually since we have an HP badged version of the SL500) but StorageTek was never a significant player in the disk world and as you say Sun ran even that into the ground.
    • Read the article. The mistake Sun made was not opening at the right time.

    • Re:Blame the summary (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Migala77 (1179151) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:27AM (#34485452)

      Right, the only mistake Sun did was open-source too much. Like all the closed shop were doing wonderfully well too.

      The summary is incomplete. Somewhere else in the interview he mentions that one of his regrets is not open sourcing Solaris earlier, claiming it was better than, and could have beaten Linux. His point is that they didn't have a good business model and didn't make enough money from the open source, but he also clearly still believes open source can be profitable, and open source was the right direction for Sun.

      • Re:Blame the summary (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Doc Ruby (173196) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @10:05AM (#34485772) Homepage Journal

        So when he said "We probably got a little too aggressive near the end and probably open sourced too much and tried too hard to appease the community and tried too hard to share" he was just lying like a weasel, as his contradictory hindsight also says he should have done more of what he did "too much".

        Open source wasn't the problem, as he freely admits. Doing it too late was the problem. By the time it was "near the end" it was too late to "take care of the shareholders" by doing anything different. Open source was the only thing keeping Sun relevant near the end, and therefore the only thing taking care of the shareholders.

        McNealy screwed up, as everyone watching Solaris sink could tell. He should have opened the Solaris source, ported it to Java running on every CPU but optimized for highest speed on Sparc - and then maybe Xeon. Should have made Java applets actually work on every CPU/OS/browser, the way Adobe did Flash, and bought Macromedia instead of Adobe getting it - or just competing with it. So many things he could have done if he'd managed for the 2000s instead of the early 1990s. Now he's just a whiner whose day is long gone.

      • by santax (1541065)
        In 2007 Sun had that thingie, if you would fill in a form, they would send you solaris. It's 2010 now. Almost 2011. Despite numerous mails from my side, I am still waiting for Solaris.
  • I need another CEO job and I can't get one!
  • by digitaldc (879047) * on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:16AM (#34485384)
    "...while he's never read Atlas Shrugged, McNealy cites its author Ayn Rand as his mentor while he was growing up. Rand is a hero to those on the political right "

    Interesting...
    • Re:Ayn Rand? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by dkleinsc (563838) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:27AM (#34485444) Homepage

      That's hardly news, and McNealy is far from the most powerful guy who loves Ayn Rand. For instance, former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan was a big fan of her as well.

      The reason, I think, is that Ayn Rand's philosophy is that people become rich and powerful because they're better and more valuable people than those who don't. Compare that to, say, Karl Marx, who would argue that people become rich and powerful because they're scum-sucking leeches who like to steal from everybody else. Now, if you're rich and powerful, which philosophy would make you feel better about yourself and what you did to get to where you are?

      • by Migala77 (1179151)

        The reason, I think, is that Ayn Rand's philosophy is that people become rich and powerful because they're better and more valuable people than those who don't. Compare that to, say, Karl Marx, who would argue that people become rich and powerful because they're scum-sucking leeches who like to steal from everybody else. Now, if you're rich and powerful, which philosophy would make you feel better about yourself and what you did to get to where you are?

        And which makes you feel better about yourself if you are not rich and powerful?

      • by Moraelin (679338) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @10:07AM (#34485778) Journal

        I don't think it's even about rich or non-rich. What Ayn Rand does isn't as much a defense of being rich, as a defense of psychopathy and of not giving a damn about the others or their well being.

        And while in her writing she does somewhat tone it down, in her diary she was going all fangirl over people like William Edward Hickman. That was her ideal of superman and she loved a quote from him saying "what is good for me is right."

        Just to make it clear, what William Edward Hickman was famous for was kidnapping a schoolgirl and mailing her father taunting ransom notes signed with names like "Fate" or "Death". Then when the father came with the money, and thought he saw his girl sleeping in the abductor's car, she got thrown out of the car... dead. Hickman had cut off her limbs -- by his own testimony, _alive_, as the blood was coming out in small spurts, i.e., the heart was still beating -- hollowed out her torso and strewn her inner organs all over town. Actually living out an earlier fantasy he had told a former accomplice about, to take someone apart and chuck bits of them all over town.

        Ayn Rand thought Hickman was some kind of dashing romantic adventurer whose only "crime" was rejecting the unreasonable conformism of society. (Like, you know, not taking live children apart.) She pretty much foamed at the mouth against those boring sheeples who dared so self-righteously criticize her hero. A bit later she blames society for basically not offering him anything better to do than gut and dismember a little girl. I mean what was the poor guy supposed to do? Get a boring job and a boring wife and all that? No, really. That's her justification for Hickman.

        And really, that's what her writing is about. Even the economic angle is Bullshit with a capital B. I mean, her utopia needs an infinite free energy source to even function. But she manages to do a heck of a job in lionizing the psychopaths who doesn't give a damn about anyone else, and calling those "statists" and "collectivists" names, and fantasizing about their destruction.

        Now consider that a large number of those at the top _are_ psychopaths. See, for example: Is Your Boss A Psychopaths? [fastcompany.com]

        If you were one, wouldn't you just _love_ a philosophy that says it's just normal to not give a damn about anyone else, and that it's an _objective_ (or Objectivist) fact that it's all about caring for number one?

        • by sac13 (870194)

          I don't think it's even about rich or non-rich. What Ayn Rand does isn't as much a defense of being rich, as a defense of psychopathy and of not giving a damn about the others or their well being.

          At a much deeper level, she is arguing against artificial morality. Unfortunately, she tends to define that as any value system not in harmony with hers. But, I'm certainly not going to attempt to defend her or her work here. She was demonstrably twisted (as is almost anyone who has achieved significantly to some degree).

          The interesting question that is begged is, what makes being focussed on self-interest and not valuing others "bad?" What makes being selfless and giving to others "good?"

          We tend to agr

          • by hey! (33014) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @05:42PM (#34493358) Homepage Journal

            The interesting question that is begged is, what makes being focussed on self-interest and not valuing others "bad?" What makes being selfless and giving to others "good?"

            This is kind of a strawman version of thousands of years of philosophical thinking about ethics. Objectivist ethics is not particularly well informed about the ideas it criticizes or is based upon. It is supposedly founded *axiomatically* on two propositions: (1) Existence exists and (2) selfishness is good. Proponents of this position simply assert that people who disagree with them about something like economic policy deny their own existence, without actually providing any justification for that assertion. Of course there is no such proof. There couldn't be any rigorous proof of anything interesting drawn from such a weak set of axioms. The credibility of the assertion comes from elsewhere.

            We tend to agree that those are "good" and "bad" things in general, but what are the root criteria that we are basing that on?

            Well, let's go back to the thinker who created the field of "Ethics", even coining the name. Aristotle. In Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle introduces the concept of "eudaimonia" -- literally "good spirit", often translated as "happiness" or "flourishing". What he means, I think, is a desirable, rewarding life; one that a thinking person can enjoy and feel satisfaction living. That's not simple ethical egoism, which says that morality is pursuing one's own happiness exclusively, because that *really* begs the question of whether such a program is feasible. Aristotle realizes that human nature and society are complex things, and that the pursuit of personal happiness requires a balance between satisfying personal desires and disciplining them.

            Let's bring this back to the issue of CEOs and their philosophical views for a moment. One of the attractions of Nietzsche and Rand is that they give you a ready justification for your successes, to wit: I am a superman and deserve my wealth and status. They also provide you with an excuse for your failures: slave morality / collectivism is restraining my genius. This is not to say that really superior men are *never* held back by hordes of collectivists. Of course that happens. But for the vast majority of us, even CEOs, the question of whether collectivism is restraining our superhuman genius really does beg the question: are we really that much of a genius that this is the best explanation for our disappointments?

            And that I think is the crux of any *practical* ethical philosophy: how to reconcile our desires and disappointments with our actions. Life is full of disappointments, no matter how superior you may be. If you're a CEO, eventually the company you run will fail. The splashy actions you take today will eventually spread out into an imperceptible ripple in economic history. Nobody really wins immortal glory, nor does anybody get to enjoy the slender slice of posthumous glory they might earn.

            A satisfying life must be built in the here and now, with the tasks at hand, and most importantly the people around us. Finding satisfaction in the welfare of those around us may have no rigorously *formal* support in some axiomatic model of how the world should be. It just works. I have yet to see any philosophy which easily generates self-serving excuses for its adherents disappointments lead to any kind of life *I'd* want to lead, but your mileage may vary.

      • by mcgrew (92797) *

        Both can be true with the right mindset. Randies think that "scum-sucking leeches who like to steal from everybody else" are better and more valuable people than those who don't.

        What's fascinating to me is that IINM, Marx was an athiest, while almost all the money-worshipers claim to be Christians.

    • Let me get this straight: Ayn Rand was his "mentor", yet he's never read her what is considered by most (and Ms. Rand herself) to be her "flagship" novel? The Fountainhead was merely a warming-up exercise to Atlas... Personally, I think both novels are awful, but I've never been a big fan of polemic, no matter which side of the political spectrum it falls on. (And too many good authors fall into the trap of thinking I give a $hit about their political views and let their books suffer greatly as a result

    • by drinkypoo (153816)

      Obviously. If he'd read Atlas Shrugged, he would never have been a fan.

  • by dkleinsc (563838) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:21AM (#34485406) Homepage

    Sun's biggest problem was that its various flagship products were out-competed or unprofitable. On the high end hardware, IBM could build better mainframes. On the lower end hardware, Dell could build cheaper workstations and servers. On their Unix, Linux became as good as or better than Solaris. And Java, while nifty, had no way of turning a profit.

    By open-sourcing its software offerings, Sun ensured that while its business was screwed, its legacy lives on.

    • by ducomputergeek (595742) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:38AM (#34485552)

      It's more that Linux became "good enough" for a lot tasks and was cheaper. Having worked around both, Solaris still has features that if it's needed are worth the money.

      • by jedidiah (1196)

        What features?

        You throw claims like this around and don't even bother to mention anything.

        No. Sun's problem was thinking like this. Everyone treated Sun and Solaris like it was something when it really wasn't all that. After a few years in a Sun shop, moving into a more heterogeneous environment would wipe the "Sun worship" right out of you.

        The problem of "real unix" at the top, and "linux" at the bottom is spot on.

        Linux and x86 also highlighted just how weak Sun's RISC offerings were.

        Sun got a lot of busin

        • by drinkypoo (153816)

          Sun is like Windows, as long as it's all you have it's pretty fucking great. Then you start trying to mix it up with other operating systems and you learn that you've got to bring the whole goddamned GNU toolchain onboard. Or I hear now they're doing it for you. To get any kind of decent performance out of SPARC you have to pay for their shitty, oh so shitty compiler, or maybe that's improved dramatically since the last time I had to tangle with it. gcc mostly generates fantastic code on x86, and not so muc

  • by OzTech (524154) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:22AM (#34485410)

    > We were a wonderful acquisition — we got stolen for a song at the bottom of the Dow

    Translation (spin removal) - I screwed up - and would now like to thank the Gods for my "golden parachute". Since I think a suitable time period has passed (hey, it's 2010 and people have an attention span of 2 minutes or less, besides nobody who will live much longer than another 2-3 years even knows who Bill Joy, or a SPARC let alone a 360 was), it is okay for me to now attempt to twist and distort history so the world doesn't remember me as "the bloke who fsked up, big time and killed off one of the last bastilions of real technical people who "got it"."

    - Yeah, I fsked up BIG TIME, but you can' t prove it and my name isn't Julian Assange, so after tomorrow you won't remember anyway.

  • Meally mouthed (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stumbles (602007) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:27AM (#34485448)
    That's strange. Red Hat does all via Open Source and is about to pass the $1 Billion mark. Sounds like to me McNeally was a very poor CEO and it had nothing to do with the things they Open Sourced.
  • Oracle is not nor has ever been about opensource. It's about making money. Unlike Sun, if it doesn't make money (either directly or indirectly), Oracle will dump it. Oracle knows why it's in business, who its customers are and they are not developers, the community, consumers, or small businesses. They are large companies, the government, and other big institutions.

  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:32AM (#34485488) Journal
    When Microsoft was chewing into the market share of Sun's unix workstation, it fought a short sighted battle. OS vs OS. Server vs Server. But Microsoft had an unending money supply through its monopoly in the MS-Office franchise. Microsoft could simply wait it out in a slugfest. Then Linux got ported into intel. The server market was being chewed on both ends and it simply did not have any viable options left. He is just looking for scape goats in the form of open source and the community. It realized it very late and tried to use StarOffice but never had the strategic vision to use it effectively.

    Google is doing it right. Its google-docs does not do much, in terms of bells and whistles it pales when compared to Ms-Office. But it is well positioned based on a simple truth. 90% of the people need only 10% of the features of full fledged Ms-Office. Give that 10% free and effectively deny Ms-Office the mind-share of 90% of the people. Force Microsoft to interoperate with a significant part of this 90%. Give customers of Microsoft some ammunition in price negotiation. Anything that will make Microsoft play defense in the Office arena, is the resource it can not spend in fighting Google. It is ably helped by Microsoft that has promoted to leading positions people who won the corporate desktop market. Like Civil War generals fighting the war using Napoleonic tactics against machine guns, or the WW-I generals fighting that war using Civil War lessons, the management of Microsoft is fighting the consumer market war using corporate desktop war tactics.

    Coming back to Sun, it was effectively done in by amortization. The cost of development and research of intel chips was spread over so many more customers compared to the sparc chips. The same way cost of development of Windows was spread over a much larger number of customers. When there is an order of magnitude difference between you and your competitor in terms of potential for amortization of cost of R&D, you should have the vision to react early and react decisively. For all the high salaries paid to these MBA types, they did not see it coming.

    I'll grant you I am Monday-morning-quarter-backing. But I not getting Sunday-after-noon-quarterbacking salaries either. Scott McNealy got paid to see this coming. He failed. Miserably.

  • What about death by alienation, because you shit where you eat? (ie on your open source developers)

    As for Scott's comments, I don't see Redhat in the same free fall Sun was in. Of course Sun was passive aggressive towards the OS community in many aspects. Redhat for the most part hasn't been.

    • Scott's comments were with a pre-Solaris (SVR4) view point, I think. He makes the case that in the early nineties, Sun was to BSD as RedHat was to Linux today (bubble ignored).

      I think that's a reasonable characterization.

  • by assertation (1255714) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:43AM (#34485590)

    I'm not an expert and I don't follow these things so take my opinion as is.

    I remember people talking in the early 2000s when Sun was trying to be the "dot in the dotcom" that Sun lost to linux. Many companies simply didn't need a big Sun box and now that they could get something unixy on a box more appropriate to their business that is what they did.

    That could have happened if a proprietary business one day saw a niche for a unix operating system on a small machine.

    Sun was all about selling big machines and their OS for those big machines.

    Aside from that, I think he has a good point about thinking carefully when aiming the open source gun.

    Many companies make it hard to buy something...at least for programmers.

    If somebody can download something for free and have it work fine, they will not bother to go through the channels in their company to get them to buy something.

    • by jedidiah (1196)

      The real kicker is the fact that Sun did have a x86 Unix before Linux made a name for itself.

  • Commoditization (Score:5, Interesting)

    by antifoidulus (807088) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:43AM (#34485594) Homepage Journal
    Sun succumbed to the same thing that felled SGI, namely the boom in commodity computing. Sun made some really great products, the problem was that they also that made products that were really expensive. Back in the day when the difference between the high end and commodity was significant enough that a lot of companies were willing to shell out the money for the primo shit. However so called "commodity" computing(both hardware and software) has eventually caught up and a lot of companies could no longer rationalize the difference between Sun's stuff and the much cheaper products.

    For instance 2 years ago we were looking for a new RAID and were considering Sun's ZFS storage appliance but the $10k for 2 tb was just waaaay to much money for the tiny extra bit of redundancy we could get. It was cheaper to just buy a much bigger raid, split it in 2, and do an rsync. Not the greatest situation in the world, but ultimately it saves a lot of money. Sun just could not compete for anything but a relatively tiny niche market while having massive amounts of capital tied up in labor and facilities.
    • by drsmithy (35869)

      For instance 2 years ago we were looking for a new RAID and were considering Sun's ZFS storage appliance but the $10k for 2 tb was just waaaay to much money for the tiny extra bit of redundancy we could get. It was cheaper to just buy a much bigger raid, split it in 2, and do an rsync.

      You have described two completely different solutions. One is about redundancy, the other is about backups.

      Somehow I don't think you were comparing Apples and Oranges when you made that decision.

  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @09:55AM (#34485698) Homepage Journal

    Red Hat does quite well giving away its open source OS and apps as fast as it can. That's not what devalued Sun.

    What devalued Sun was that its CEO, McNealy, was unable to run such a company. He kept proprietary products like Solaris propped up for years longer than they had a market among competitors like Windows and Linux, even as primary competitor IBM deprecated its proprietary OSes to embrace them both. Then McNealy punted on Solaris, opening its source only when there was no demand for it. Sun's Solaris business didn't get taken by competitors copying Solaris' source or anything like that. In fact, opening the source kept it going for years, even if it was too little, too late to save it. Especially with the CEO failing to actually embrace open source, but rather seeing it as a dumping ground for nonproductive assets instead of a hothouse to grow those assets into productive centers to be monetized.

    McNealy is like any failed CEO whose failure was trying to control something better developed by letting it go more: blame the "liberals" ("liberal" means "free from control"). If McNealy can blame open source for his own failures, he might find new income from the many other incompetent businesses that need a scapegoat like open source to hide their own failures. And in today's corporate world, especially America's, there is no higher demand for anything than for a scapegoat.

  • by Jaysyn (203771)

    But why would anyone follow his advice after he ran Sun into the ground?

  • Sun was the leading provider of workstations and Unix servers and could do no wrong - until the Unix wars. Rather that unifying the market, the Unix wars fragmented the vendors and opened the door for someone else to walk in with a hardware-neutral OS. That was Microsoft with Windows NT.

    I was deeply involved in the CAD world and all the good apps ran on Unix. PCs were low-power toys. Customers were tired of supporting different platforms for different apps and wanted a single OS for all platforms. Just

  • Sun was already dying before the opened up Java or Solaris. But lets blame something else than poor management.

  • A while ago, Polaroid and, I guess, DEC before it, all had the same problems. They had a great body of work, but they could not capitalize on it. At Polaroid, I worked on their electronic still camera. The project took a distant back seat to their "instant film" division because that's where the income was. The current cash cow was too powerful within the organization to allow it to develop and market potentially competing technologies. The problem is, if you don't modernize your product line and, perhaps,

  • Sales process sucked (Score:5, Informative)

    by spinkham (56603) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @11:44AM (#34487482)

    Did anyone ever try to buy things from Sun?

    No other company I ever worked with made it so hard. Unless you were a megacustomer, it was actually fairly difficult to actually buy anything from them.

    In contrast, buying RedHat on the small scale is click, click, done.

    Here's a summary of Ellison's rant on why Sun died, notice the complaints are mostly about sales and engineering decisions, open source had very little to do with it:

    http://blogs.barrons.com/techtraderdaily/2010/05/13/oracles-ellison-sun-execs-were-astonishingly-bad-managers/ [barrons.com]

    • by SplashMyBandit (1543257) on Wednesday December 08, 2010 @03:14PM (#34491056)

      Absolutely true. Wish I had mod points but I've already blown them.

      We tried to buy a little rack-mount server from Sun. The specs were great and the price awesome compared to its competitors. However, we needed it *now*. There was no on-line ordering process and since we were only ordering a single server we were a low priority. Sun insisted we go through one of their sales guys, but he took three days to get back to us. Too late, we bought a little Mac Mini instead and got it the same day.

      I think Sun thought that you would have a 'better experience' being attended to by one of their sales muppets. I'm sure the sales department was all for this (easier to get bonuses, since the sales guys would miss them for online sales). However, everyone else was removing people from the ordering process since it is so much more efficient if you know what you want (and tech folk know what they want - they often have better product knowledge than salesmen).

      Sun's demise wasn't anything due to Open Sourcing stuff. If anything, this made them relevant for longer (despite the spin other proprietary companies and journalists would like to put on it). They died cause they lacked sales. They lacked sales because buying their nice products was quite difficult relative to buying similar stuff from their competitors. I hope decision-makers learn from that (seems like they don't read Slashdot though).

    • To quote from the Ellison article "Ellison shut down development of Sun’s Rock microprocessor, a project which had struggled to get off the ground. “This processor had two incredible virtues: It was incredibly slow and it consumed vast amounts of energy. It was so hot that they had to put about 12 inches of cooling fans on top of it to cool the processor,” said Ellison. “It was just madness to continue that project.”"

      he

      Well Ellison gets one thing wrong. It wasn't 12 inches o

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