After the Sun (Microsystems) Sets, the Real Stories Come Out


IEEE Spectrum has the story After the Sun (Microsystems) Sets, the Real Stories Come Out.

Besides a time for sharing Sun stories, the reunion was also a time for stepping back, and taking the long view. That’s perhaps a particularly good thing to remember this month, with Hewlett-Packard’s recent announcement of another 11 000 to 16 000 layoffs sending a shudder through the valley, a reminder that even great companies don’t necessarily last forever. Companies rise and fall, young founders (Sun’s founders were all in their 20s) grow up, and even when the signs in front of a building change (or don’t; Facebook intentionally left a few Sun signs up when it took over the former Sun campus in Menlo Park to remind people of what can happen to a company) the people inside will still be working on cool technology.

I find this story particularly fascinating as it is part of my history too, in a less direct way.

In 1983/1984, Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) sent me to Berkeley, CA to be a visiting industrial fellow at the University of California.  I found the name of Bill Joy (one of Sun’s founders) frequently mentioned and I think there were some remnants of his software around.  I really had no idea of who Bill Joy was or that he was working for SUN, or how young SUN actually was.

I also had the opportunity to visit XEROX PARC for a day with many graduate students from Berkeley.  We were all shown the technology that XEROX was working on.

SUN became quite the competitor to DEC and eventually took a lot of business away from DEC.  After I left DEC, the computers that I used in subsequent jobs were all SUN Workstations.

Getting together with some of my fellow DEC Alums for a lunch once a month these days, I find that the result for those who stayed wasn’t quite as rosy as the paragraph excerpted above.  In fact, the plant in Hudson, MA where I worked, was taken over by HP and Intel after the remnants of DEC were sold to them.  Intel is now in the process of closing the whole thing down and trying to find a buyer for the building and equipment.  The chance of another company buying the site and continuing the work that was done there seems pretty slim.

Most of the people in the our lunch group are retired now.  The ones that stayed with the succeeding owners of the site did have many years of productive work there, but it’s not the same as working at the home location of a technology star like DEC was in its heyday.

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