Sun Microsystems is gone, but its legacy is everywhere


Yesterday, I drove past the former Sun Microsystems headquarters for the first time since Facebook moved in earlier this month. That and reading about former Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz’s new startup reminded me just how influential a company Sun was, despite its somewhat unfortunate fate.

Innovation was never Sun’s problem, but monetizing those innovations was. Evidence of Sun’s innovative streak is scattered throughout Silicon Valley and the greater IT world in the form of former employees who went on to do big things after leaving the company.

Here’s what they’ve been up to. Maybe we’ll talk about Facebook the same way 30 years from now.

Andy Bechtolsheim (co-founder): Arista Networks (founder and chief development officer)

Bill Joy (co-founder): Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers (partner)

Vinod Khosla (co-founder): Khosla Ventures (partner)

Scott McNealy (co-founder): WayIn (founder and chairman)

Bryan Cantrill: Joyent (VP of engineering)

Alfred Chuang: BEA Systems (s orcl) (co-founder, president and CEO); Magnet Systems (founder and CEO)

James Gosling (co-creator, Java): Liquid Robotics (chief software architect)

Marc Fleury: JBoss (s rht) (founder)

Gary Lauterbach: SeaMicro (CTO)

Chris Malachowsky and Curtis Priem: Nvidia (co-founders)

Peter Norvig: Google (s goog) (director of research)

Greg Papadopoulos (EVP and CTO): New Enterprise Associates (partner)

Radia Perlman: Intel (s intc) (Intel Fellow)

Eric Schmidt (CTO): Google (chairman, former CEO)

Jonathan Schwartz (president and CEO): CareZone (founder and CEO)

Marc Tremblay: Microsoft (s msft) (distinguished engineer)

Bill Vass (president and COO, Sun Microsystems Federal): Liquid Robotics (president and CEO)

Ed Zander (president and COO): Motorola (s mot) (chairman and CEO, 2004-08)

Image courtesy of Flickr user viHannes.


Rory Robichaux

Case where the whole was definitely less than the sum of its parts: 1 + 1 = 1/2

James Bryce Clark

Tsk. Gawking at all the C-suite names, half with zero tech impact, and barely grazing Sun’s deep bench of famous inventors, who are still out there creating the network. How VC of you.

Derrick Harris

I won’t dispute your claim insofar as I was trying to grab some names — out of a huge pool — people would recognize. But you’re right that Sun had a long list of inventors who have went on to do important stuff.

kevin mullenex

Just goes to show what a waste of incredible talent when they stop working together as a team AND forget why they were there in the first place!!

Scott Law

come on Derrick, how about some more research on sun influence
Carol Bartz ..
George Reyes, cfo of google through going public
Mike Lehman, cfo now of palo alto networks
Robert Younjohns, in charge of Microsoft North America…


Not a single woman on the list. At least it’s a list of older techies. I hope a “Where are they now?” list made 30 years from now has women on it.

Derrick Harris

Technically there is one woman on the list. But I agree that more women in tech would be a good thing.


Some smart said, back when Sun was at its peak, “They are trying to build at least 5 different operating systems simultaneously – it won’t work.” He was referring to the multiple versions of Java, plus Sparc, plus maybe one or two more. It had to be part of what brought that place down.

Worse, they had SGI as a cautionary example to consider. Custom OS, custom processors, abortive attempts to convert to standards, and engineering teams left free to optimize for their projects instead of build toward a cohesive whole. (fun tidbit – I remember having to re-format an SGI workstation’s hard drive because of an Irix point release).

Like SGI, influential company, great diaspora, and not a surprise that they cratered.

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