Sun Microsystems is the type of company that most new startups hope to become: massively profitable, astoundingly innovative, and supremely adaptable. But as Karen Southwick's engaging narrative High Noon makes clear, there were many bumps along the road to Sun's $25 billion market valuation. In fact, when Sun started out in the early '80s as a spinoff of the Stanford University Network (SUN), there was barely a road at all.
It's hard to remember a time when there wasn't a computer on every desktop, but in 1981, engineers had to stand in line to use their company's mainframes. Sun's business strategy was to sell a desktop workstation for each employee who needed a computer. On top of that, Sun allowed those workstations to exchange data via an intracompany network, and used graphical interfaces to make them easier to navigate. Standard stuff now, but a radical series of concepts back then, and it was inevitable that Sun would clash with Microsoft. Sun CEO Scott McNealy's enmity for the software colossus is well-known--he was a key player in the U.S. government's antitrust action against Microsoft in the late 1990s--and it temporarily scattered the company's focus, leading to a major reorganization.
The conclusion to the Sun story is, of course, unknown. Southwick ends her book with a peek into the future, speculating on what will become of promising computer languages like Java and Jini. But it seems like it'll be a long time before Sun sets. --Lou Schuler
From Publishers Weekly
Many readers may still be unsure exactly what Sun Microsystems does, despite the company's recently ubiquitous ads ("We're the dot in .com") obliquely touting the Java programming language. Southwick, the managing editor of Forbes's online daily edition, ASAP, doesn't spend much time explaining Sun's hardware manufacturing and software development. She concentrates, instead, on the company's rapid growth to a current valuation of about $10 billion. She sees Sun (an acronym for Stanford University Network) as a creation of CEO McNealy, who was tapped by two other Stanford-affiliated students, Vinod Khosla and Andy Bechtolscheim, to help run the fledgling company in 1982. After the board ousted engineering visionary Khosla in 1984, McNealy got the nod, and never looked back. According to most accounts, including this one, he has piloted Sun with a mixture of brio, financial know-how and sensitivity. He has also become perhaps Bill Gates's most vocal antagonist. McNealy declined to be interviewed for the book, and Southwick was forced to rely on conversations with many current and former Sun employees. Though her report founders on too many business-talk sentences like "With tremendous growth comes the equally tremendous challenge of accommodating that growth from a resource and management perspective," Southwick does give a solid, chronological account of the company and its momentous decision to transform itself from a hardware-only company into a creator and provider of software. $100,000 ad/promo; 75,000 first printing. (Sept.)
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