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High Noon: The Inside Story of Scott McNealy and the Rise of Sun Microsystems Hardcover – August 13, 1999

3.4 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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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.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (August 13, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0471297135
  • ISBN-13: 978-0471297130
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 0.9 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,986,840 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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. Yes, it had some interesting inside stories, but overall it felt shallow and too much Microsoft focused. It is also interesting that the book got published in 1999 which was probably still the best period for Sun, after which things turned worst and they eventually got eaten up by their large partner...

The book has 12 chapters, each describing a period of Sun's company history. There is actually not that much about the early years, except that it explains how Sun was founded, how Scott McNealy got into power at Sun and how is defeated their major competitors and grew to a large company.

Also already some of the early chapters, unfortunately, there is a lot of focus on Sun vs. Microsoft. I mean, Sun vs. Microsoft is definitively interesting and worth a chapter, but I didn't felt it needed to be mentioned again and again and again. Especially in the earlier chapters, it disappointed me.

The chapters that interested me most were the ones where the author described how Sun created their major innovations: Spark, Solaris, Java. The major drawback of the stories was that both the inside stories and the technical details were sort-of missing. It was still interesting, yet it could have been a lot better.

The later chapters nearly only focus on Microsoft vs. Sun and that got a bit boring. The book ends up trying to predict the future of Sun, which was insightful yet a bit off the mark.

All in all, the book was ok. It wasn't bad and I enjoyed reading it. Yet, I wouldn't recommend it as I had wished a less MS focused and more inside-story version of the history of Sun. So, 3 stars... just ok.
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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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By calmly on October 19, 2005
Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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