Attack! One of the fundamental rules of business I have learned is that to succeed, you must attack the leader. If your efforts aren't geared to become better than the current #1, then you don't really have any justification for existence. Find the weaknesses, become more efficient, discover hidden customer wants.
Attacking yourself is a problem with Sun Microsystems. They just don't seem able to do it. Oh, they do okay when they’re in the pack somewhere competing for profits, but whenever they find themselves ahead, they have a tendency to sit back and enjoy the scenery. But even worse is when Sun only thinks that they’re number 1. Their release of Java as a competitive development language was brilliant and they managed to put it out there with enough oomph to attract every anti-Microsoft developer on the planet. And they achieved enough momentum and enthusiasm that they thought that they would be able to coast into number 1 position in development languages. Coasting along for the last year, they haven’t been very responsive to the development community. They’ve delayed standards reviews. They’ve stalled on effective IDE issues. And, perhaps worst of all, they stopped pushing Java in broad marketing initiatives.
So have they learned from their mistakes? Unfortunately, the answer seems to be “no”. Scott McNealy seems to have decided that his ego alone can overcome any obstacle and he has failed to give any answers with substance about how Sun will manage to overcome these threats to Java. This is making a lot of developers who have banked on the popularity and utility of Java very nervous. New third-party tools are coming out that help extend the usefulness of Java immensely, but these tools can be expensive and make a poor comparison for a development house that is looking at the ease of VB.NET and comparing that to the hoary, expensive, patch-work monster that Java has become.
Good thing Sun has that lovely server business to fall back on. Um, or maybe not. While Sun was playing around doing whatever they were doing back there, their server market is being eaten alive from the bottom. Sure, Sun makes incredibly reliable servers, but they’re pricey suckers and Sun hasn’t implemented any substantive improvements recently. In other words, they didn’t attack themselves. Their prices didn’t come down until they started losing business and that is far, far too late. Further, consumers have found that if reliable costs too much, they can often achieve the same results with less reliable, but redundant. Thank Michael Dell for that little epiphany. Dell pushed server prices so low that you can afford three of his servers for the price of one Sun. And that’s after a major price-slash on the part of Sun.
My prediction? Sun is in for a tough time. They’re clearly in decline and the pit seems to be bottomless. McNealy and co. don’t seem to have fully realized their danger. Upon hearing that Sun needs to recalibrate, Scott McNealy’s response is simply “We couldn’t be better positioned.” He’s known as a tough guy, but even tough guys get knocked out if they’re not careful. Particularly when they walk around with their eyes closed.
What do you do once you're #1? Same thing. Attacking yourself is a tough thing for companies to do and it isn’t something they typically do well. Those who do, however, will tend to reach number 1 and stay there. This principle is the single biggest factor in the continuing success of Microsoft. Bill Gates is the most paranoid man on Earth and he is convinced that if he rests on his laurels for even a moment, some upstart will come around and nail him. He’s right.
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