ESR: After Sun Goes Out
Oct 02, 2003, 14:00 (90 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Eric S. Raymond)
Re-Imagining Linux Platforms to Meet the Needs of Cloud Service Providers
By Eric S. Raymond
President, Open Source Initiative
Sun Microsystems crossed the line from "troubled" to "doomed"
yesterday. This is sad news for the open-source community, and we
need to think about how we're going to deal with it. The most
pressing questions are "What becomes of Java?" and "What becomes of
OpenOffice.org?" These are questions that matter.
Sun's troubles have been mounting for a while. Founder Bill
Joy's departure was an ominous recent symbol, but the substance of
their problem is that their huge-margin server business is being
eroded from the low end by PCs running Linux at a rate that doesn't
leave it much of a future.
Nobody should cheer the prospect of Sun's demise. Sun screwed up
some major decisions very badly, from wrecking Unix standardization
efforts in the 1980s to throttling the dream of Java ubiquity by
keeping the language proprietary. But nobody should forget that Sun
was founded by Unix hackers for Unix hackers. For most of its
lifespan Sun remained the archetype of an engineering-driven
company. Sun was, mostly, among the good guys; to hackers and
geeks, disputing with Sun was almost a family quarrel.
But inside Sun, I hear that talent is bailing out of the company
because they just don't believe the Solaris-will-prevail story
management is peddling. Most of Sun's techies are running Linux on
their PCs at home. They can see the handwriting on the wall.
In retrospect, the recent pronunciamento that Sun has no Linux
strategy was their final admission of failure. Sun can't run at the
lean profit margins that are all a commoditized Linux server market
will support, their cost structure is all wrong for it. They got
trapped in a classic innovator's dilemma and didn't cannibalize
their own business while they had the investor confidence and
maneuvering room to do so. Cuddling up to SCO didn't help,
And now it's too late. Moody's has just about dropped Sun into
the junk-bond basement. The stock closed at $3.31, 15% off for the
day and falling in heavy trading. The recent product announcements
have been duds, and the upcoming quarterlies are going to be a
disaster. Wall street analysts are calling for drastic job cuts and
speaking the code phrases that mean "run for the hills!" The smell
of death is in the air.
Any of Sun's people and tangible assets that don't scatter to
the four winds will probably wind up in the hands of IBM, HP, and
Dell--three companies that have shown they do know how to play the
commodity-computing game. The SCO lawsuit probably won't be
affected. Sun was the lesser-known of of SCO's sugar daddies along
with Microsoft, but Redmond can pick up Sun's share of funding the
lawsuit out of petty cash--and it undoubtedly will.
The real question is two-fold: can OpenOffice.org survive
without Sun and where will Java land? Probably not at Microsoft;
with C# in the picture, it is unlikely that Microsoft even wants to
own Java any more. I have to guess that IBM is the most likely to
shoulder both technologies, simply because nobody else is really
positioned to do it. But that, of course, raises other worries--is
it really good for us if IBM has a lead position in everything?