Friday, June 05, 2009


I've no idea if this is the last JavaOne as some rumours suggest (others that it may simply become an add-on to Oracle World), but it is with some sadness that I think about that and the acquisition of Sun by Oracle. Every time I think of this I keep hearing the words of Don't Let The Sun Go Down On Me (used to great effect in The Lost Boys.)

Putting aside my role within Red Hat, I've always had a soft-spot for Sun going back to the start of my career. In one way or another I've worked with Sun hardware and software for over 20 years. Back then, in the mid-1980's, the workstation was really starting to come into its own as the old batch-driven mainframe systems tailed off. My first work computer was a Whitechapel, the UK attempt to enter that market. A great machine, particularly if you were new to administering a multi-user Unix machine.

But in the Arjuna project the real king of machines was the Sun 3/60 with SunOS. For years we all strove to own one, either as a hand-me-down or when we got new funding. We went through to most of the Sun-4 series and into the Solaris years, with each year bringing a new top-of-the-line machine for one of us to manage (these were multi-user machines of course). Our project was so prominent within the University that others followed our lead where they could and where they couldn't they looked on slightly enviously.

During that time we often spoke with various Sun engineers in the hardware and software groups, e.g., Jim Waldo. This was on things as varied as transactions (not surprising really) through to operating systems (we got one of the first drops of the Spring operating system) and distributed computing. Then when Sun released Oak and eventually Java it was a natural extension for us to get involved with that heavily.

It was in the early 1990's that things started to change though. We were using Linux from the first public release Linus made (I remember Stuart and I taking it home one evening to replace Minix that we'd been running on the Atari's). Then when the project bought us Pentium machines, Stuart made the switch from a Sparc 2 running Solaris. He and I ran various benchmarks against my Sparc and for most of the things we needed at the time (compiling, execution etc.) the Pentium/Linux combination was faster as well as being a lot cheaper! The rest, as they say, is history. Year on year the PC and Linux combo got faster and faster, laptops came into this too pretty early, and the project steadily moved away from everything Sun. By the end of the 1990's the last few Sun workstations that were still in use were several years old and in the minority.

From conversations with others I've had over the years I think this is a very similar pattern to elsewhere. Was there anything Sun could do about this? Maybe and I'm sure that question will be debated for years to come. But for now it is with sadness that I contemplate a world without Sun. They helped shape what I am today from hardware, operating system, programming language(s) and so much more. In that regard I will always be in their dept.

1 comment:

Anil Saldanha said...

The contributions from Sun to the technical world is immense. There are not enough words to describe how much they will be missed. They have not only acted as a steward to the Java world but also contributed sincerely to the open source world (Tomcat, OpenOffice etc). Their implementation of the Java Virtual Machine is the best from scalability and robustness perspective.

Mark, it is amazing that you can recall the hardware/software details you have been using for the last 20-25 years.

Java One is great. But over years, you had to actually figure out what submissions would be accepted by the committee (if you sprinkle some of the Sun marketed technologies such as JavaFX, Glassfish etc, there was a better chance of getting your talk accepted). Hopefully if J1 vanishes as a stand-alone conference, I am sure other conferences will pick up steam, but very gradually.

Sun is an all rounder (a Systems company in the true sense). Over the years, the emphasis on the hardware world left their software pretty weak in strategy and adoption. When the beans did not bake, they open sourced all their enterprise software and started CLAIMING to be a great open source company. Of course, Sun has contributed some great OSS such as Tomcat and OpenOffice, but I have some annoyances when I see Sun associating itself as a true OSS company. Yeah, Solaris 10+ is great with ZFS, Zoning and DTrace, but not sure if opensolaris has really made inroads into the SMB world as much as Linux has done.

Let us see how long the snorkel (Sun + Oracle) holds under the water.

A demise of a great company, indeed.

My opinion.