Once upon a time, I wanted to work for Sun Microsystems in the worst way. I remember the visit I made to their Burlington campus after it first opened through a student group at Northeastern. At the time I certainly knew of Sun – I had worked with SunOS and Solaris and knew about Java, at the time a fledgling language – but going to that campus was a game-changer.
Now, it seems nothing is left. And that’s unfortunate.
To be sure, Sun was not perfect. I know all too well from one standpoint – I bought a few shares of stock back when it was still pretty high, and ultimately lost several hundred dollars (I knew better than to put a significant amount of money into stockpicking no matter how good I thought I might be). Among other things, I didn’t realize that Sun’s P/E ratio around the time I bought was a three-digit number – never a good thing. You live and you learn. That was the last individual stock I bought, unless I count my old LTX stock that I bought as part of an employee stock purchase plan.
As the article I cited earlier noted, Sun didn’t open source Solaris early enough, which is noteworthy because one truism of Linux is that it hasn’t dented Windows use so much, but it certainly made a big dent in Unix. It seems as if so much of what used to be Unix has moved to Linux.
Still, despite Sun’s failings, look at the product line noted in the story, or even what you may remember of Sun. There was the Sparc processor, a big deal in its heyday even if it wasn’t the Intel Pentium. (Sun later tried to become a leader in processors optimized for parallel programming, including one that was codenamed “Niagara” that I have a small recollection of reading about.) There were SunOS and Solaris, big parts of Unix, and it was those operating systems through which many probably first knew about Sun as they made powerful Unix workstations. (Before I got into Linux, I did a lot of work on Unix, even being the primary Unix developer at one company who primarily did software for Windows environments.) There was Java, a language that helped spur much change in the World Wide Web. There was Workshop, a very good debugger I have used, and NetBeans came later (and thankfully is still very much around). They were known for the phrase “The Network is the Computer,” and to that end, they created the Network File System (NFS) protocol.
Look at some of the people who came through there as well – co-founder Bill Joy, who created the Unix C shell and vi editor among other things, and Guy Steele, an author who spoke to us when we visited their Burlington campus, came through there. James Gosling was famous for leading the way on Java.
Some I know who worked at Sun said it was a wonderful company to work for. That has to count for something as well.
Sun has been something of a distant memory for a while now, though alumni abound. It certainly isn’t quite like Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), a company where it seems like there’s an alum around every corner, but they are around. And as it appears the last remnants of the company are off in the distance in a more “official” way, I think back to the time when I wished I could be a future alum as well.