It's sinking in that Sun is gone

February 21, 2010

I know, I'm behind the times, but it is slowly sinking in to me that Sun is gone; that Sun Microsystems, the company of Andy Bechtolsheim and Bill Joy, the source of NFS among so many other things, is no more. What pieces of it survive are parts of a software company.

I'm sad about this not so much because of the end of Sun the company, but because it underlines the end of an era: Sun was the last survivor, in a way the last remnant, of the group of 1980s Unix workstation vendor that collectively started the era of Unix workstations and servers. Realistically that time has been over for a while now, but while Sun still existed a little bit of the dream lingered on. Now, that remnant is gone.

That this touches me is a matter of personal history. I got into this field at just the right time to be swept up in all of this, so that my image of Sun was formed when they were the premiere Unix workstation company for normal people (SGI was better, but they were too expensive for anyone but graphics pros; ordinary people could actually aspire to use a Sun someday). And Sun did a lot and gave us a lot in the course of being that company; much of the Unix environment I use every day comes ultimately from that era and Sun's work. To see it all come to nothing in the end is, yes, a bit sad.

(Technically HP still exists, but I never considered them a real Unix workstation company; they just sold Unix machines as a sideline, much like IBM. It was never anywhere near close to the heart of either company.)

Thus, to me this marks the end not just of a company but the definite closure of an era and the end of the last remnant of the dream of the Unix hardware vendor and of the many associated dreams that spun off from it (such as the RISC dream); when your last champion (which was also your first champion) finally falls, that's it.

(The good news is that the torch of Unix has not been extinguished; that passed long ago to the free Unixes (among which I include Linux).)


Written on 21 February 2010.
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