An old friend sent me a link to Scott McNealy's email titled, "Thanks for a Great 28 Years," yesterday. Scott didn't really reflect on old memories in detail, but reading his words got me thinking.
As I reflect on Sun and McNealy, I have the same feeling as when Digital Equipment was purchased by Compaq (note: sorry but I didn't have these feelings when Compaq was acquired by HP), and when I read that SGI declared bankrunptcy. Another iconic tech industry pioneer is gone.
Those of us with 20+ years in the tech industry dealt with Sun one way or another through our careers. As an analyst at Forrester way back when and now at ESG, I had more than my share of working with Sun. For the most part, I always enjoyed it. Here are a few of my impressions.
1. Sun people were really smart yet didn't take themselves too seriously. The same is true for top management. I remember joking around with Ed Zander at the height of Sun's success. Sharp folks but always characters.
2. Sun was always innovative and willing to question the status quo for technical reasons -- even if the business winds were blowing a different direction. You may not have agreed with Sun's decisions but you always left a technical conversation with Sun a bit smarter.
3. Unlike more humble cultures like HP and IBM, Sun was always happy to kick sand at competitors. This may not have been prudent but it was always entertaining.
4. The invention, introduction, and development of Java was one of the most exciting technical developments in my career.
5. Without Sun, we may have had a computing environment composed of mainframes and PCs running over Token Ring networks.
6. Finally, McNealy himself was always worth the price of admission. His jokes were "in your face" and funny but he had the intelligence and chutzpah to back up his words. While I was at Forrester back in the 1990s, I would send an occasional email to McNealy and he always wrote back. My emails would always contain a hockey joke and he always responded in kind.
I could write a book on the mistakes Sun made (note: it would have to come after the book on the mistakes Digital made), but that's another task. Sun is part of Oracle and another chapter in the high tech book is done. Best of luck Scott, it was fun (indirectly) working with you too.