% fortune -ae paul murphy

Making the case for change

Regular readers may recall a suggestion by frequent contributor P Msac to the effect that Sun should relabel the Sun Ray as an enterprise desktop.

One of the key Sun Ray evangelists at Sun blogs under the name "thin guy". Here's a note his ultimate boss, Jonathon Schwartz, added to his blog comments in response to Pedro's idea:

you may want to respond to this..... http://blogs.zdnet.com/Murphy/?p=809

Posted by Jonathan on March 05, 2007 at 11:23 PM PST

He couldn't.

There is, or at least was, a Sun Ray demonstration school project you've never heard about in California. It got started as a left handed response to a proposal I'd made to some senior Sun people suggesting that a fully public, Unix style - ie. open, responsive, user-centric - demonstration site would be fun for me to put together and run while selling a whole lot of Sun Rays and servers for them.

In the executive vision the point of the thing was to demonstrate product superiority on user services and cost by making absolutely everything - every user comment, every management response, every failure report - public in real time. The implementation was pretty much the opposite: tentative, secretative, and unenthusiastic about the technology.

Last week Sun president Jonathan Schwartz devoted his blog to lauding the value of Sun's design advantage; saying, for example, that:

Step one of reaching new customers is being better by design - and fueling word of mouth. After all, the internet reaches more people than a television.

A plurality of non employee comments among the 42 this post drew by Sunday morning either discussed or raised the difficulty of dealing with Sun. Here's one example, by "KangCool":

I agree with Mads, never known a company so hard to buy from.

I have had Sun VARs put the phone down on me, they're that interested in small/medium business. And this sort of stuff gets around, ie don't bother buying from sun because they don't want to know, in the small business circles.

And thats the point, where do the google and facebooks of this world come from. They come from a few guys ideas and out of their garages, and without sun kit as you will not sell to them. So why will they buy sun kit ever?

Now, in reality, Sun has a very nice "Start-up essentials" program that offers qualifying startups large discounts, software support, and ultimately access to Sun's customer base.

So why doesn't KangCool know about this? because Sun's leadership fired off the program as a continuation of something Sun's had since start-up and told middle management to get the word out.

But they haven't.

What's going on with all three reflects Sun's middle management problem - particularly in marketing. Without access to the data I cannot know for sure, but my guess is that the situation is a result of a viciously Darwinian selection process applied to a largely ex-DEC population following the dot dumb implosion, to leave in place people who cannot adapt to technology or market change by deviating this week from what worked last week.

As one result among many, this means that as the price of individual servers continues downward, Sun's regional offices keep increasing the minimum guaranteed order size needed for them to answer the phone, thus making them harder and harder to buy from for small to medium sized companies - including their own VARs.

Bottom line? the negative view of this is that Sun has strong leadership, great products, and good people at both ends of the employment scale - but a great paper work sucking, initiative draining, innovation vacuum in the middle.

The more positive spin, however, is first that there's an enormous opportunity there for someone who can make money bundling open source applications with coupla-thousand dollar Solaris servers sold in ones and twos - and secondly that an organizational remake for Sun marketing may be very much in order.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.