High Noon: The Inside Story of Scott McNealy and the Rise of Sun Microsystems

June 18th, 2017  |  Published in Technology Industry

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In 1982, a little upstart named Sun was making waves in the high-tech industry with its groundbreaking workstation technology, even as early competitors dismissed the company as not worth losing sleep over. Since then, Sun Microsystems has become a formidable presence in the industry, making its own rules and taking no prisoners, and is currently poised to reach the highest point of its ascendancy–the challenge of Microsoft’s dominance over the future of computing. The driving force behind this once fledgling company is a man who has been described as brash, unconventional, ambitious, forward-looking, and sometimes his own worst enemy. Scott McNealy turned Sun into the multibillion-dollar success it is today–a developer of innovative software like Java that is revolutionizing the computing landscape. High Noon is the inside story of Sun’s rise to power, from its shaky start in Silicon Valley through its transformation under the aggressive and inspirational leadership of McNealy. Karen Southwick reveals the behind-the-scenes maneuverings of McNealy and Sun, with candid interviews from the key players and insights into the inner workings of the high-tech industry. This book examines how scrappy underdog Sun overcame its larger and supposedly tougher competitors, combining hard work, tenacity, and talented people to build a more innovative and flexible company. Among High Noon’s revelations: -A new perspective on how the complex, contradictory McNealy shaped his company and fashioned its strategy -Insight into central issues facing the high-tech industry, such as network computers and the future of the Internet -An insider view of the maneuverings of industry powerhouses, including Microsoft, Oracle, Netscape, IBM, and Intel -Both entertaining and instructive, High Noon offers valuable lessons for taking charge of your destiny and succeeding in a fast-paced, unpredictable, and even hostile environmentSun Microsystems is the type of company that most new startups hope to become: massively profitable, astoundingly innovative, and supremely adaptable. But as Karen Southwick’s engaging narrative High Noon makes clear, there were many bumps along the road to Sun’s billion market valuation. In fact, when Sun started out in the early ’80s as a spinoff of the Stanford University Network (SUN), there was barely a road at all.

It’s hard to remember a time when there wasn’t a computer on every desktop, but in 1981, engineers had to stand in line to use their company’s mainframes. Sun’s business strategy was to sell a desktop workstation for each employee who needed a computer. On top of that, Sun allowed those workstations to exchange data via an intracompany network, and used graphical interfaces to make them easier to navigate. Standard stuff now, but a radical series of concepts back then, and it was inevitable that Sun would clash with Microsoft. Sun CEO Scott McNealy’s enmity for the software colossus is well-known–he was a key player in the U.S. government’s antitrust action against Microsoft in the late 1990s–and it temporarily scattered the company’s focus, leading to a major reorganization.

The conclusion to the Sun story is, of course, unknown. Southwick ends her book with a peek into the future, speculating on what will become of promising computer languages like Java and Jini. But it seems like it’ll be a long time before Sun sets. –Lou Schuler

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