Sun rise, Sun set…the world (and IBM) moves on

As a former long-time employee of Sun Microsystems and, unfortunately, still a stockholder, I’ve been watching the mating dance between Sun and IBM with more than a passing interest.

Given the current state of the economy, the technology industry, and Sun itself, it seems like a sale to IBM would be the best possible way to put a graceful ending to Sun’s long but blemished history. The company has struggled for years–never quite finding its place after the dotcom bust, flirting with then embracing open source, no longer a leader in any of its core markets, losing money more often than not.

Unfortunately, it looks like we aren’t all going to live happily ever after in this fairy tale, folks. As of yesterday, it appears that Sun rejected IBM’s lower offer which puts us back to square one, if not worse.

It seems fairly short sighted to back away from a deal for a few pennies a share–especially when the sales price was close to a 100% premium on Sun’s pre-deal stock price. Rumors are that Sun execs wanted to be sure they got their golden parachutes. Or that Sun wanted a promise that IBM would definitively follow through and close the deal.  Hate to break it to you, but there’s no guarantees in life, gentlemen. We could get hit with The Big Earthquake tomorrow and the whole discussion would be moot.Given the circumstances, it looks like this may have been the best deal Sun was going to get.

Sometimes the best way to evaluate a potential action is to look at the opportunity cost of *not* doing it. In this case, what are the alternatives for Sun? There don’t appear to be a long list of suitors lined up and waiting. The company, which has been implementing layoffs for years, has recently upped the speed and depth of employee cuts, including recent major reductions to the Sun sales force, which  appeared to be in preparation for a sale. Now what? It’s not easy to ramp up a sales force, particularly for a company that appears to be hanging out a For Sale sign.

It really is a shame to see one of Silicon Valley’s pioneers reduced to this state. There are thousands of Sun alumi around the valley and the world who remember the younger Sun Microsystems–trim, fit, full of spunk and energy and attitude. A company that told the world the network was the computer, long before anyone ever knew what that really meant. The company that practically invented open systems, changing the way computers were designed, built and marketed forever. The company that created Java and Solaris. The company whose alumni include such industry luminaries as Vinod Kosla, Andy Bechtolsheim, Bill Joy, Eric Schmidt, Carol Bartz…not to mention the thousands of other great people who I was privileged to work with, many of whom  have gone on to start or run great companies, or take on other exciting challenges.

Long before there was Google or Yahoo or EBay, there was Sun. Long before there was Linux or open source, there was Sun. Long before there was even a world wide web, there was Sun.For a short time, we really were on top of the world, or to put it more aptly, the star at the center of the computing universe.

But astronomers tell us that all great stars eventually burn themselves out. Because of the great distance, sometimes it takes years to realize that what used to be a bright, vibrant orb is now just a mere shadow of itself. But the universe stops for no one. New stars are created, and with them other great sources of light.

Sun rise, Sun set. A new day  dawns. Time to focus on what’s bright and warm here and now and in the future. Maybe there’s still a spark of light in the old Sun yet, or maybe it’s time to put this star to rest. The world’s moved on and so must we.

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