Sun vs. Microsoft: Sun's Winning Strategy - Lose Microsoft

Rob Enderle

A year or so ago I got in trouble with The Register for a quote in The Economist where I said something to the effect that Sun had no strategy.

 

What was interesting was the author, Ashley Vance, didn't disagree with my position. He felt strongly that my clients, some of whom compete with Sun, had somehow influenced me to say this. The fact is Sun didn't have a strategy and their financial performance clearly indicated that.

 

What a difference a year makes. They've actually been doing very well of late and, once again, the motivation for this comment is their actual financial performance. The core of Sun's success, I think, is they no longer focus on Microsoft.

 

Sun's Historic Problem

 

What Sun used to do was spend most of its time, particularly the CEO's time, disparaging Microsoft. I do think they actually did Microsoft a lot of damage but, as a competitor, were relatively ineffective given how much time and money they spent on the project.


 

On the other hand, customers used to tell us that they had no idea what Sun's strategy was because Sun spent so much time on Microsoft that it never seemed to get around to anything concerning its own strategy or platform benefits.

 

In short, even if they were reasonably successful in keeping folks from moving to Windows, they weren't doing anything to sell or position their own products, and sales fell off a cliff.

 

In addition, they put resources in projects like Java and Open Office that seemed to be specifically designed to hurt Microsoft but didn't seem to have any connection whatsoever to the high margin hardware business that Sun made a living from.

 

The worst example was a couple of years ago. I went to a CTO briefing and Sun's CTO showcased their view of the future. It was a world where software was a service. I could certainly see where Microsoft could be a smaller player and vastly less powerful in that future world, but it was one defined by commodity hardware and, in such a world, Sun would be dead. I'm very sure I didn't impress them much by pointing that out in front of a press audience.

 

Up until recently, I honestly didn't think Sun could turn this around. They were simply too focused on the wrong things. The "Why" Behind Sun's Turnaround

 

So it is with some surprise that I actually think Sun has turned the corner. Their financials are trending up, people are talking about them like they are relevant again, and I'll bet it's a lot more fun to work there all of a sudden. (Though that sometimes takes a while).

 

The reason appears to be they have focused back on the customer and are providing a real alternative to Linux, which was where the real competition was coming from anyway.

 

Sun is the UNIX bellwether and, at some point, you had to believe that folks would stop seeing Linux as perfect at birth and realize that UNIX, even if it costs a bit more, actually is still a good value because you get more with it. More important, Sun is vastly more capable of handling large complex projects, simply because they do more of them than either Novell or Red Hat.

 

But it was the renewed customer focus that allowed them to really think through their offerings and then target their messaging at those that might want to buy them. Now instead of pounding Microsoft's "hair ball" products, they are taking the same time and talking about why their own products are better at a particular task.

 

While most of their business may still be with existing customers, these are the same folks they were losing before, and most weren't going to Microsoft anyway -- most were going to Linux, and Sun has a real alternative to Linux while Microsoft really doesn't have a product that competes well with a focused Sun offering. It isn't similar enough.

 

We'll pick up the whole UNIX vs. Linux thing later, but I think there are indications UNIX is coming back and, if that is true, Sun should be able to ride that wave. Heck, it looks like they may already be riding it.

 

BSD a Better Alternative

 

In closing, for those that like Open Source, don't want to use a big vendor and don't like the "religious" aspects of Linux, BSD is a nice alternative. One of the folks responding to an earlier post reminded me of an old saying: "BSD is for people who love UNIX; Linux is for people who hate Windows."

 

I'm not sure that is entirely true, but after reading some recent posts I have to wonder. If you go to the BSD blogs (they even give good Linux advice), you'll see thoughtful posts, virtually no foul language, and people mostly focused on getting work done. I don't know about you, but I kind of like that.

 

It may explain why both BSD and Sun seem to be getting more popular. What do you think?

A year or so ago I got in trouble with The Register for a quote in The Economist where I said something to the effect that Sun had no strategy.

 

What was interesting was the author, Ashley Vance, didn't disagree with my position. He felt strongly that my clients, some of whom compete with Sun, had somehow influenced me to say this. The fact is Sun didn't have a strategy and their financial performance clearly indicated that.

 

What a difference a year makes. They've actually been doing very well of late and, once again, the motivation for this comment is their actual financial performance. The core of Sun's success, I think, is they no longer focus on Microsoft.

 

Sun's Historic Problem

 

What Sun used to do was spend most of its time, particularly the CEO's time, disparaging Microsoft. I do think they actually did Microsoft a lot of damage but, as a competitor, were relatively ineffective given how much time and money they spent on the project.

 

On the other hand, customers used to tell us that they had no idea what Sun's strategy was because Sun spent so much time on Microsoft that it never seemed to get around to anything concerning its own strategy or platform benefits.

 

In short, even if they were reasonably successful in keeping folks from moving to Windows, they weren't doing anything to sell or position their own products, and sales fell off a cliff.

 

In addition, they put resources in projects like Java and Open Office that seemed to be specifically designed to hurt Microsoft but didn't seem to have any connection whatsoever to the high margin hardware business that Sun made a living from.

 

The worst example was a couple of years ago. I went to a CTO briefing and Sun's CTO showcased their view of the future. It was a world where software was a service. I could certainly see where Microsoft could be a smaller player and vastly less powerful in that future world, but it was one defined by commodity hardware and, in such a world, Sun would be dead. I'm very sure I didn't impress them much by pointing that out in front of a press audience.

 

Up until recently, I honestly didn't think Sun could turn this around. They were simply too focused on the wrong things. The "Why" Behind Sun's Turnaround

 

So it is with some surprise that I actually think Sun has turned the corner. Their financials are trending up, people are talking about them like they are relevant again, and I'll bet it's a lot more fun to work there all of a sudden. (Though that sometimes takes a while).

 

The reason appears to be they have focused back on the customer and are providing a real alternative to Linux, which was where the real competition was coming from anyway.

 

Sun is the UNIX bellwether and, at some point, you had to believe that folks would stop seeing Linux as perfect at birth and realize that UNIX, even if it costs a bit more, actually is still a good value because you get more with it. More important, Sun is vastly more capable of handling large complex projects, simply because they do more of them than either Novell or Red Hat.

 

But it was the renewed customer focus that allowed them to really think through their offerings and then target their messaging at those that might want to buy them. Now instead of pounding Microsoft's "hair ball" products, they are taking the same time and talking about why their own products are better at a particular task.

 

While most of their business may still be with existing customers, these are the same folks they were losing before, and most weren't going to Microsoft anyway -- most were going to Linux, and Sun has a real alternative to Linux while Microsoft really doesn't have a product that competes well with a focused Sun offering. It isn't similar enough.

 

We'll pick up the whole UNIX vs. Linux thing later, but I think there are indications UNIX is coming back and, if that is true, Sun should be able to ride that wave. Heck, it looks like they may already be riding it.

 

BSD a Better Alternative

 

In closing, for those that like Open Source, don't want to use a big vendor and don't like the "religious" aspects of Linux, BSD is a nice alternative. One of the folks responding to an earlier post reminded me of an old saying: "BSD is for people who love UNIX; Linux is for people who hate Windows."

 

I'm not sure that is entirely true, but after reading some recent posts I have to wonder. If you go to the BSD blogs (they even give good Linux advice), you'll see thoughtful posts, virtually no foul language, and people mostly focused on getting work done. I don't know about you, but I kind of like that.

 

It may explain why both BSD and Sun seem to be getting more popular. What do you think?



Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Mar 16, 2007 12:11 PM Michael Sanders Michael Sanders  says:
Here Here! I agreed with you last year, in terms of Sun had no focus, etc. I hope (and from my level, i can only see a bit) that your analysis is basically correct, and that Sun can pull itself out of the muck. Reply
Mar 18, 2008 4:24 AM Karthikeyan P Karthikeyan P  says:
What you have said is absolutely correct.Sun was concentrated on wrong things.Nor did they innovate anything hugely new.Google has been doing exactly the same what Sun has done and is more successful. Reply
Jul 12, 2008 7:50 AM Bek Bek  says:
Tell me how much money gave you Microsoft Corp. to write that analysis? They pay you per line as their programmers? Reply

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