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).)

Comments on this page:

By nothings at 2010-02-21 20:03:58:

Did anything in particular trigger this?

It seems odd to say "what pieces of it survive are parts of a software company", when the crowning achievement of you choose to characterize the original by in the previous sentence is NFS, which surely is software itself.

- nothings

By cks at 2010-02-22 01:59:53:

The honest answer about what triggered this is that I'm a slow entry writer. I started thinking about this when the Sun/Oracle deal closed on January 27th and started redirecting to Oracle's website, but it's taken until now to actually produce an entry on it.

Perhaps I should have said 'application software company' (although Oracle isn't exactly an application, really). To me, there's a fairly large difference between an operating system company and a company that doesn't have operating systems as one of its primary focuses.

(There's an argument that Sun itself hasn't really been a Unix company for years, but my image of Sun was primarily set back when I knew them as the cool, admirable Unix vendor.)

By nothings at 2010-02-22 09:59:26:

> started redirecting to Oracle's website

Oh, I had no idea. Yeah, I can see that.


By cks at 2010-02-22 14:01:17:

Yeah, Oracle has made it very clear that they haven't just bought Sun, they've absorbed it.

From at 2010-02-25 06:25:07:

I'm glad to see them gone. They represent a bastardization of the Unix philosophy and numerous attempts to co-opt it by various hardware manufacturers who realized that creating a "Unix-like" environment was easy. Even easier was turning it into a system that completely obscured the original intents.

I suggest going back and reading what you can find about Unix before it escaped from AT&T and then comparing it to what you've seen coming out of Sun and others during "Unix wars". There is a HUGE difference.

By the way, I am really impressed with Sun, DEC, SGI, etc. in terms of their hardware, but they really failed to understand the software lessons that everyone should have learned in the 60s and 70s that have been more or less lost to time and out of print books and papers these days...

From at 2010-02-25 11:13:53:

(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).)

Not to be a fanboy, but Apple became the number one seller of UNIX workstations a while ago.

Quartz may not be Display Postscript and Aqua may not be CDE, but Mac OS X is a bona fide UNIX.


 Jordi Bunster
From at 2010-02-25 11:35:35:

Bechtolsheim, not Bechtolstein

By cks at 2010-02-25 12:57:18:

Whoops, thank you for noticing that; I've corrected Andy Bechtolsheim's name now. (It's an embarrassing mistake to make; I even checked Wikipedia to make sure I had his name right, but apparently didn't notice that, well, I didn't.)

Written on 21 February 2010.
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