サンフランシスコの空の下から~Kyle's monthly topics~(英語)

Vol.3 「Sunは新星にあるいは消滅?」

I feel rather sad. The once mighty Sun, king of workstations, has been bought. The writing has been on the wall for some time now, and negotiations with IBM were apparently fairly far along, but, for whatever reason, they fell through and Oracle stepped up. I suppose it makes sense. For years, all during the dot-com boom, the Sun-Oracle combination was the engine powering so many companies on the road to an IPO. I remember meeting with Sun and Oracle reps back in the old days of the mid-90s, and they kicked around prices in the many hundreds of thousands of dollars for the simplest of networks, load balancers, and database licenses. Yes, they were fully capable system designs, but I suspect that architectural people rather lost their minds back then. Silicon Valley was awash with money and people were happy to spend it. Sun and Oracle were happy to take it, too. Things are so much tighter now, and Sun and Oracle have suffered for it. Sadly, Sun has had a harder time making the transition, and I am disappointed to have to admit that one reason may have been Jonathan Schwartz.

I first met Jonathan back around 1990 or 1991, when I was working for Canon's NeXT Group. I had accompanied a Canon senior manager to meet with Jonathan's company Lighthouse Design Ltd., one of the first and most important of NeXT's independent developers. Lighthouse had a terrific app called "Diagram!" which, obviously, was a diagramming application. You could create palettes of objects, drag them out onto a canvas, and connect them with lines. It was like a primitive version of today's Visio, but it was gorgeous at the time. I frequently would use it to compose letters, it was so much fun to use. Anyway, Jonathan met us at a local coffee shop near Washington D.C., because he felt that the house they occupied was unsuitable to meet in. Thin ethernet cable draped over everything, apparently. I would not have thought any the less of him or his team, but it would have made him feel uncomfortable so we met on neutral ground. I don't recall any specifics of our conversation, but I was impressed by his intelligence and perception, and his drive to produce good software. He was clearly a businessman, and the "front man" and business brains of the operation. Canon eventually distributed Diagram! within its sales territory and assisted Lighthouse on a Japanese version. I still have my copies, both English and Japanese, down in my computer museum, and am happy that Canon also distributed Lighthouse's other titles like Concurrence.

Eventually Sun bought Lighthouse (for US$22 million) because of their Java development tool JavaPlan, and the company thereby also acquired Jonathan. He rose up in the ranks to eventually take over from Scott McNealy in April 2006 when Jonathan was appointed Sun's CEO and President. it distresses me that in researching this event I have come across so many people who think that Jonathan ran Sun into the ground. The sort of complaints I've read have ranged from the company lacking vision to not understanding its core competencies to chasing trivial changes (for example, altering its stock market tag from SUNW to JAVA) and so on. Around October of 2007 the company stock was around $25 per share. Late in 2008 it was down to about $3, though with the merge/purchase talk and finally Oracle's decision it climbed up to near $10 per share by the end of March 2009. Clearly, Wall Street wasn't happy with Jonathan. But now that is pretty much all behind us. Perhaps Jonathan will stay with the new business operation but I doubt Larry Ellison is a wonderful person to work for. However, running Sun for a few years means that Jonathan must have been able to play the "office politics" game with at least adequate skill. Big, famous companies have their entrenched centers of power, the games-playing by management at all levels but particularly at the highest. Everyone has their own territory, their own fiefdoms, which they fight for and protect. Scott McNealy was in charge for 22 years and would have been a tough act to follow. I can understand why people, including employees, are upset that their stock tanked, and Jonathan is the easy target.

You can still find old press releases about JavaPlan by googling for "javaplan" in quotes. The Internet is such a wonderful repository of history, and it helped me dredge up memories of Borland, which is another Old Guard company that was purchased recently for $75 million in cash. I remember the rather flamboyant Philippe Kahn and his championing of a straightforward software license, treating software like a book--you could make multiple copies but use only one at a time. I used to use Sidekick all the time, a TSR (Terminate and Stay Resident app,meaning you could access its functions within another running app, much like Desk Accessories in early versions of MacOS). Borland's Turbo Pascal was very popular, as was its Turbo C. I don't recall using SuperKey or Lightning, but they too were well known. In recent years the company has drifted a bit, selling off its IDE and concentrating on something called "Application Lifecycle Management" software (what seems to be a fancy name for practical software development techniques) but it was worth $75 million to a company called Micro Focus. I've never heard of them, but they had the money.

Flip Video

A friend of mine recommended a simple video camera called "Flip Video" made by a small company called Pure Digital Technologies Inc., and so I ordered one from woot.com for US$69 plus US$5 shipping. Most video cameras are relatively complex affairs, with x240 zooms, anti-jitter, hard drives or discs, and lots of options and buttons. In contrast, this little Flip Video camera is utter simplicity. A Record button is surrounded by Left, Right, Plus, and Minus buttons. Nearby are Play and Delete buttons. it has a Video Out port to play on a TV, it has a USB2 connector that pops out the side, and it has an On/Off button. It has a digital zoom , but I will probably just get closer to my subject and avoid any digital artifacting. It is small enough and light enough for me to carry it around without much thought, and it it stores an hour of video in NVRAM. Sure, the quality isn't that great, like an analog TV, but it is fine for YouTube material. I still intend to get a very good quality camera, probably one of the modern HD ones once I save up some pennies, and I will use that for important events, but Flip Video looks fine for regular material.

woot.com is an interesting site, by the way. They offer one product per day, usually in limited quantities and at a low price. You can order a maximum of three items (usually) and they provide no support at all. Contact the manufacturer for all warranty and technical support! They seem to have a good sense of humor and their deals are very good. I also like the concept. If you like the deal, buy it. If you don't, don't complain.

The Flip looks looks perfect for casual shooting, but even better, I do think it is a clever use of simple parts to make something very handy. In that same spirit, I came across a truly nifty iPod nano hack the other day that is also extremely clever, though not yet commercial. An engineer whose specialty is the Global Positioning System has built a GPS unit for the iPod nano. http://www.kokes.net/iPodGPS/iPodGPS.html shows the details, how he built the circuit board, wrote a screen driver, and so forth. Very involved and very crude, but really an extremely impressive piece of work. it just goes to show that even the iPod really is a surprisingly capable, tiny computing platform, offering us some intriguing theoretical possibilities. Sadly, people need to do a lot of work to unlock those possibilities, and although we have a relatively flexible platform in the iPhone, some big parts of the machine are still officially locked off. Perhaps the 3.0 version and its 1,000+ new APIs will help.

AT&T's exclusive right to have the iPhone on its nework in the United States sounds like it is scheduled to end in 2011. Rumors are flying about a possible extension, or a version coming out for Verizon's network, but of course Apple remains tight-lipped. It is time for an upgrade, though, and I personally still long for a faster CPU. Safari too often lags behind my finger, when I stoke to scroll up or down or across but nothing happens for three or four seconds, leading me to think that the stroke didn't register and to stroke again, whereupon the page scrolls and then scrolls again because the CPU decides to process both strokes back-to-back. But my complaints are still relatively minor, and I am fairly confident that the phone in my pocket from two years ago will still have strong advantages over the rumored Microsoft "iPhone-killer" that Microsoft may be working on. Microsoft's codename is said to be "Pink," which immediately reminded me of an old OS project that Apple started around 1988 when it realized that the old MacOS just wasn't going to cut the mustard in the coming years. Engineers wrote down easy features that later became System 7 on blue cards and more advanced features on pink cards. Hence, the codename of the OS that eventually grew out of those cards. In 1992 IBM joined the project and Pink became Taligent, but Apple soon lost interest and when the CEO died in 1995, the whole project basically died with him. My friends at Adamation worked on that project, contributing to Taligent's CommonPoint environment using technology they developed during their NeXTstep days.

If Microsoft really is working on an iPhone-killer, they might use technology that Microsoft acquired when it bought Danger in early 2008 (a handset maker I wrote about a few years ago). Interestingly, Danger's product line is called "Sidekick," reminding me of Borland's popular product. And it looks like Roz Ho who used to head up Microsoft's Macintosh Business Unit is now head of Microsoft's Premium Mobile Experiences (PMX) team working on "consumer-facing mobile projects." Roz was quoted on boygeniusreport.com as saying, "We want people to smile every time they look at their phone." I'm not sure that's what my goal would be, but we'll see.

I noticed a Danger handset on an episode of "Heroes" (I am now halfway through the first series; excellent show) where the cheerleader used one to exchange some text messages with a friend. Apple has given that show some computer equipment in exchange for it being use on-screen, but perhaps the cheerleader having an iPhone would have been too hard to believe. Then again, it is a show about ordinary people with super powers, so perhaps the more unbelievable thing to me is that she would use a Danger device.