Today, March 15th, is my first anniversary at Sun; an opportunity for discourse on how I think we’re doing. There’s a unifying theme which may come as a surprise: The important stuff, well, it’s boring. Which is both good and bad.
What’s Good · I’ll do the good news first, but...
Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating, and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit
But of bliss and glad life there is little to be said, before it ends; as works fair and wonderful, while still they endure for eyes to see, are their own record, and only when they are in peril or broken for ever do they pass into song.
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion
As J.R.R. suggests, good news is boring.
The Computers · The computers we sell seem to be pretty good; I can testify to the Opteron boxes being screamers, and everyone here seems to think that the next generation being cooked up by Andy Bechtolsheim and his henchpeople are going to be even hotter. And unless pretty well all the conventional wisdom about CMT and TLP (Chip Multi-Threading and Thread-Level Parallelism) is wrong, the next-gen SPARCs are going to be wonderful server platforms.
The Operating System · On the software side, Solaris is getting good reviews, and I’m finding more to like than dislike about it. I’m getting some interesting performance numbers out of both Zeppelin and Bonnie and will be writing them up here. But the bottom line is, I’m pretty sure that selling computer infrastructure based on our hardware and OS is a decent business to be in.
The Pricing · Another good thing is the work on pricing. I’ve been in this business for over twenty years, and I’ve hated the pricing practices almost that long, if only for the accounting bullshit. To be honest, probably the #1 thing that made me decide to come here is how we’re trying to break that logjam. This work is far from done, but it’s important stuff.
The Blogging · It really has to count as a major stroke of luck that Jonathan, who believes in transparency and is a good writer, got promoted to President/COO two weeks after I joined, and said “Everyone here can talk to the world.” The resulting explosion has been a joy to be part of. If you don’t think we’re re-inventing the basics of business communication right here and right now, you’re not watching.
Boring Isn’t Always Good · So, what do you think about when you think about Sun? Computers, networks, operating systems... and Java. There’s the problem, because Java is boring. Java is the safe choice. Java is COBOL. You won’t get fired for choosing Java. Banks use Java. Telephone companies use Java. CIOs like Java.
And that’s not good enough. I think Sun, to compete successfully against IBM’s Global Services infantry and Microsoft’s Windows/Office entrenchments, has to get out in front and exercise thought leadership. We brought the computer that assumes a network to market, and did well. We brought the filesystem that spans the network to market, and did well. We brought the Unix operating system with commercial documentation and support to market, and did well. We brought RISC processors to market, and did well. We brought a clean minimal Object-Oriented infrastructure to market, and did well. All of those things are conventional wisdom now, but when Sun first did them, they were way out in front.
And Java isn’t out in front. Let’s be clear: I’ve been a software professional for twenty years and I think that Java, supported by modern XP/Agile-Development methods and a good IDE, offers a combination of quality, productivity, and openness that nothing else comes close to. But I’m sorry, it’s not new and it’s not exciting. J2EE isn’t either. EJBs aren’t either. Generics and autoboxing and variable-length argument lists are good things, but they’re not exciting.
So Sun obviously isn’t going to walk away from Java, but if we’re going to exercise thought leadership at any level above base OS/Network infrastructure, it probably won’t be because of J2SE1.6 or whatever they decide to call it.
What’s Not Boring? · Cellphones aren’t boring (of all the J2*E’s, I like one with ‘M’ the best). Open Source isn’t boring. Dynamic languages aren’t boring. Web services and SOA aren’t boring, but we may have to destroy that village in order to save it. High-level support for CMT/TLP isn’t boring. Extreme Programming and Agile Development and Test-Driven Development aren’t boring. Ajax isn’t boring. Distributed applications based on RSS/Atom syndication aren’t boring. UBL isn’t boring. Health-care informatics reform isn’t boring. Unified multimodal communication (think voice, chat, email, syndication, video, and whatever comes next) isn’t boring. Distributed identity isn’t boring. The intellectual-property wars aren’t boring.
Somebody’s going to bring something to market pretty soon that combines one or two or six of these together in a good way and at the same time hits the crucial 80/20 point, and they’re going to change the world and make a lot of money.
I hope it’s Sun.