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High Noon: The Inside Story of Scott McNealy and the Rise of Sun Microsystems [Hardcover]

by Karen Southwick
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 13, 1999 0471297135 978-0471297130 1
In 1982, a little upstart named Sun was making waves in the high-tech industry with its groundbreaking workstation technology, even as early competitors dismissed the company as not worth losing sleep over. Since then, Sun Microsystems has become a formidable presence in the industry, making its own rules and taking no prisoners, and is currently poised to reach the highest point of its ascendancy--the challenge of Microsoft's dominance over the future of computing.

The driving force behind this once fledgling company is a man who has been described as brash, unconventional, ambitious, forward-looking, and sometimes even his own worst enemy. Scott McNealy turned Sun into the multibillion-dollar success it is today--a developer of innovative software like Java that is revolutionizing the computing landscape.

High Noon is the inside story of Sun's rise to power, from its shaky start in Silicon Valley through its transformation under the aggressive and inspirational leadership of McNealy. Karen Southwick reveals the behind-the-scenes maneuverings of McNealy and Sun, with candid interviews from the key players and insights into the inner workings of the high-tech industry.

This book examines how scrappy underdog Sun overcame its larger and supposedly tougher competitors, combining hard work, tenacity, and talented people to build a more innovative and flexible company. You'll learn how McNealy moved Sun up the industry food chain, challenging more established companies like Hewlett-Packard and Digital Equipment by expanding Sun's product line and refocusing the business.

High Noon expertly chronicles McNealy's triumphant history with Sun, from his early days as vice president of manufacturing to a CEO known for shooting straight from the hip without regard for the consequences. You'll discover how "Javaman"--as Fortune magazine dubbed McNealy--prompted Sun to take risks that ultimately allowed it to survive, thrive, and dominate--making Microsoft stand up and take notice. And you'll see how Sun's looming showdown with this industry giant promises wide-reaching implications for businesses and consumers alike. Among High Noon's revelations:
* A new perspective on how the complex, contradictory McNealy shaped his company and fashioned its strategy
* Insight into central issues facing the high-tech industry, such as network computers and the future of the Internet
* An insider view of the maneuverings of industry powerhouses, including Microsoft, Oracle, Netscape, IBM, and Intel
* Both entertaining and instructive, High Noon offers valuable lessons for taking charge of your destiny and succeeding in a fast-paced, unpredictable, and even hostile environment.

Advance Praise for Karen Southwick's High Noon

"High Noon captures the electricity and drama of one of the most important high-tech sagas of our time. Rich with insight as well as previously undisclosed stories."--Jim Moore, Founder, GeoPartners Research, Inc. Author of The Death of Competition

"High Noon reveals the inside story of one of the companies Microsoft fears most, Sun Microsystems. Southwick uses her keen insight to tell the story of how four twenty-somethings created a company that has grown from a small seller of scientific computers to one of the most dominant high-tech firms in the world."--Eric Nee, Editor, Fortune

"Scott McNealy is one of the most complex, fascinating individuals in high tech. Karen Southwick captures the contrarian spirit of Sun Microsystems and the intriguing personalities that run it."--Howard Anderson, President, The Yankee Group

"High Noon takes us on a straight path to the future."--Dr. Eric Schmidt, Chairman and CEO, Novell, Inc.

"High Noon illustrates how a company can succeed in the technology industry through a delicate balance between drive, talent, and timing."--Carol Bartz, Chairman and CEO, Autodesk

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (August 13, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471297135
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471297130
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,484,371 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sun deserves more credit November 11, 1999
I found this book interesting, and for the most part factual, or at least consistant with my knowledge of the industry and Sun's history. I was hoping to get more biographical infomation on Scott McNealy. I felt mislead by the cover as the book doesn't really give any "inside story" of Scott McNealy. While the book does tell an interesting story on "the rise of Sun Microsystems", I think the book comes across as biased against Sun in regards to its struggles against the competition. The industry changes quickly and prehaps things have changed since this book was written. It appeared to me that the author was implying that Sun was standing still with Solaris and trying to buy time until NT overtook Solaris. It is my professional opinion that Sun is improving the Solaris operating system and the Ultra Sparc hardware at a faster rate than Microsoft is getting NT ready for prime time. I don't see Sun facing much competition from Compaq or Dell, even when and if the Merced chip arrives. The author states in the final pages of the book that Sun needs to focus on beating IBM. I have worked in a large IBM Mainframe shop for 15 years. What I see is more and more work being offloaded from the IBM mainframes to the Sun/Solaris servers. I think IBM will beat itself as far as competing with Sun goes. Their mainframes running MVS are too expensive to purchase, too expensive to operate and don't offer the variety of database and ERP software that can be found on Unix. If IBM had a decent offering in the Unix world, they wouldn't have just gone out and accuired Sequent Computer Corp.I think it is IBM who must play catch up in order to be a major player in the internet world. I think the author could have painted a more objective and less subjective view of Sun's chances for survival in the industry. All, in all, I would still recommend the book. I found it interesting, just a bit too biased toward Microsoft and IBM.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars dissapointing January 6, 2001
For an editor of Upside and Forbes, the writing in this book is surpisingly amateurish and predictable. It jumps around a lot and doesn't really deliver anything insightful or interesting, and so I found it not worthwhile.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very good book. September 29, 1999
The author captures well the essence of Sun's roots, the company's several mid-life crises, and its recent resurgence on the strength of its high-end server offerings and the awesome potential of the still-nascent Java. As well, the spirit of the defining character of this tale, Scott McNealy, is vividly illustrated time and again. The dictionary definition of "visionary" should have a picture of McNealy and a Sun logo attached. Sun's rise makes an inspiring story, but in this reader's opinion, the best is yet to come. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Thin October 19, 2005
By calmly
If you were on a desert island from 1982 to 1999, this book might have extra value to you. Otherwise, you may already know a great deal about what's covered in this book.

"High Noon" is quite readable but doesn't dig very deep. It provides a good, albeit Pollyanna-ish introduction to Sun's history and to McNealy...up until 1999. Did I learn anything? Yes, for example, I hadn't known that Gosling architected NeWS. But the level of this book isn't that much deeper than a Reader's Digest article.

If you don't know much about Sun's pre-2000 past and want a quick survey, "High Noon" may help you.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great chronological review of Sun and Scott McNealy. September 30, 1999
By A Customer
You could feel the fast pace of Sun in Southwick's writing. The story followed a sensible chronology, was well-written as far as layman terms and yet enjoyable for the techies, too. The good points and needs-improvements of both Sun and Scott McNealy were well presented.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well researched and written, useful September 26, 2002
Unlike most books of the high-tech, hero-worship genre, these authors actually did their homework and then wrote an intelligent, well organized history of Sun Microsystems and Scott McNealy. Given the multiple transformations that Sun has gone through (workstations, chip design, software design, servers, memory systems, enterprise hardware and software, and Java), as well as its famous feud with Microsoft and Mister Bill, that is no easy task, but they provide a succinct (225 page) and unbiased view that will be of interest to anyone who is interested in learning more about these subjects. The endnotes are particularly helpful.

Although the authors were not able to interview McNealy (he turned down their request), they do include intelligent observations about him and Sun from knowledgeable persons both within and outside Sun. Given the shallowness of McNealy's public comments and statements in other interviews to date (one suspects that he is finally learning to put a governor on his mouth), the omission is not noticeable.

It is rumored that Ms. Southwick is in the process of preparing a similar volume about Oracle and Larry Ellison. If so, it will be a welcome improvement over the swill (e.g., "The Oracle of Oracle" by Florence Stone) that has been published about them to date.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The SUN never sets.... April 25, 2000
This is more of a business biography about the company and its present CEO. The age old feud against Microsoft and SUN's active role to bring the big brother to book have been narrated like a novel. Technology takes the back seat when dramatics take over. The concepts of "Network is the computer", Java, "Openness" and the paradigm shift in the world of computing that has taken place during the last two decades, the major players and the not so ethical ways of competing do get some attention.
The dot in the dot com deserves a much better book that can bring out its real strengths and contribution to the world of cyberspace.The SUN never sets over this small planet !
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Not as insightful as I had hoped
I had high hoped for high noon. I regularly read company biographies and Sun was an very interesting company (before Oracle swallowed them). However, I ended up a bit unsatisfied. Read more
Published on February 26, 2012 by Bas Vodde
2.0 out of 5 stars Not a good story book
Well, here I am, after reading the book for about two weeks every morning, and I am left with no deep impressions about either Sun or Scott. Read more
Published on January 30, 2006 by Amarsh
3.0 out of 5 stars Good, just very dated
After recently taking on some professional responsibility for a large Solaris farm after a long hiatus (about a decade) from Sun technology, I thought this might catch me up with... Read more
Published on November 5, 2003 by Shannon Gaw
3.0 out of 5 stars Needed more information about Sun the company
While I harbor no great love for Microsoft, I have even less for people who whine about a problem when they should be working on a solution. Read more
Published on May 1, 2002 by Charles Ashbacher
1.0 out of 5 stars Don't Bother
I purchased this book thinking it would provide a detailed insight into the business strategies of Sun and how Scott McNealy thinks business. Read more
Published on June 20, 2001 by "newbee1"
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly Recommended!
Author Karen Southwick reveals how a few kids from Stanford University turned Sun Microsystems into a $10 billion industry powerhouse. Read more
Published on February 16, 2001 by Rolf Dobelli
5.0 out of 5 stars Insider�s view of Sun Microsystems & Scott McNealy
High Noon reveals the inside story of a world-class IT company. It provides an insider's view at the business strategies of Sun Microsystems and its gutsy leader, CEO Scott... Read more
Published on July 31, 2000 by Azlan Adnan
4.0 out of 5 stars A must for High Tech job seekers
High Noon provided me with the knowledge base needed to attempt a break out of the service industry and into High Tech. Read more
Published on July 17, 2000 by Dawn M Haddaway
2.0 out of 5 stars Boring
One of the most boring books I have ever read. I love Sun Micro, but this seemed to much of a promotional book for Wall Street analaysts than anything. Read more
Published on December 28, 1999
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