Scott “Privacy Is Dead” McNealy told an audience at an event in Silicon Valley that Sun could have won out over Linux if the company had consistently pushed forward Solaris xI86 instead of pussy-footing around. “Google today would be running on Solaris,” he said.
Solaris was, and is, a great operating system, to be sure. But Linux did not succeed because of Sun’s failure to commit to Intel. Linux succeeded because of the open-source model, and the ability of IT people all over the world to try it without license restrictions.
If Sun had open-sourced Solaris early, Sun may very well have taken a dent out of Linux’s success. But that’s a big if. And considering how much internal wrangling, legal finagling and patent-exchanging had to be done to get Solaris open-sourced in the timeframe that it did,
even with the somewhat restrictive terms of Sun’s custom-rolled open-source license even though it was a license that split Solaris off to some degree from other open-source communities , it’s doubtful that McNealy would have pulled it off. It wasn’t until 2005 that Sun cleared the legal hurdles to open-source Solaris.
There are so many other “woulda, shoulda, coulda” moments in Sun’s history. McNealy should be acknowledged for his early recognition of the coming of cloud computing — “application dial-tone”, he referred to it as. But Sun had multiple opportunities to redefine the market with open-source early, both with Java and Solaris. The company’s toe-dips with its investments in OpenOffice (via its acquisition of StarOffice), Gnome, mySQL and other open-source projects came after Linux had already become a major threat. And honestly, Sun did those things to put a thumb in Microsoft’s eye.
So, McNealy can look back and replay the game all he wants. But it won’t change the fact that Sun was caught up in Sparc , and failed to leverage Solaris and Java to transition the company toward being an open-source driven software services company that also sells hardware. And that’s why Larry Ellison owns Sun now.