Remembering Sun Microsystems

Originally published at: Remembering Sun Microsystems | Boing Boing


Not just dotcoms: we had Sun pizza boxes in the labs in our university CS dept labs, where I cut my teeth on “this new thing from CERN” called HTML. That exposure led to our first servers in the postgrad start-up’s server room (a closet) and my move to SF for dotcom 1.0. We didn’t even start looking at Linux as a serious option for another 4 or 5 years, and then it was on the desktops. The on site server room (real, with A/C and fire suppressant, but still: how quaint) was still largely Sun hardware.

Solaris had a lot of issue for sure, but it was supported and didn’t feel as Wild West as Linux to the folks in purchasing.


I was consulting in the 90s, but I saw the writing on the wall. I shared a client with Sun and accepted an offer to come work for them after that gig. Sun was my life raft through the dotcom crash and was a very cool place to work. I was in the Java Center and then over in the RFID Center and had a good time playing with all the toys and getting to work with clients who wouldn’t have given me the time of day without the Sun badge. So many cool ideas, so little adult supervision. It was bound to end about how it ended.

I still think Sun had a huge positive influence on software development. They were a heavy counter argument to the horrific vision Microsoft was pushing in the 90s and early 00s. Not that Sun would have gotten far with that if IBM hadn’t jumped on board.


When I joined my current employer in 2004, we were running SAS on Solaris. Yeah, it was slow, but it beat running on a mainframe as I’d done on my prior job!


I just did a quick inventory in the house, and I’ve still got a Sun 3 and a couple of Sparkstation 20s from that era sitting around. I’m not sure about the Sparkstations, but the 3 still boots!


A favorite early employment memory was my 1992 summer internship at SGI (now the Google campus!) in the actual factory where the purple workstations got bolted together in America. Those were the Silicon Valley days.

I remember someone somehow had a digitized version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Down in it” that you could download onto your workstation’s massive 400MB (lol) HD and listen to on the machine’s speaker—mind blowing :slight_smile:

Now the SGI HQ is literally the Computer History Museum


im currently using an old sgi machine as a monitor stand. perfect height, and a very pretty color. it might turn on. it’s been a few decades


My CS department had the same setup. I liked Solaris and mosaic running on it was my first experience of the web. Oracle buying out Sun was one of the saddest developments.


I still have fond memories of spending many happy years working on my own Sun 3 workstation and its (then) massive 21” megapixel monochrome monitor. Sure most of the action happened on a couple of big DEC minis down the corridor, but the GUI front end to UNIX was fantastic.

Those things were built like tanks and their optical mice were seriously science fiction stuff in the late 1980s.


I don’t think it’s fair to rag on Sun like Jason did.

For example, Solaris was feature-packed in ways that would take Linux decades to catch up. They invented technologies that Linux systems still rely on to this day (just off the top of my head: NFS, NSS).

They were prescient in understanding that the network was more important than the workstation.

If anything, they were a poster child of “too early” for many of the technologies they espoused.

But yeah, too expensive, and they didn’t have a business model for Java.


As I recall, it was next to impossible to sell any UNIX platform other than Sun from 1997 to 2001. That’s what did the company in – when the first dotcom boom imploded, lots and lots of “next to new” Sun gear hit the market and they couldn’t sell their new stuff. That and delays to the next generation of SPARC processors…


nerd rage…. rising….

I worked at SGI during their glory years. They were incredible machines at the time, seeing as how they invented hardware acceleration of 3D rendering. Unfortunately, like so many companies, they settled into rent-seeking– blindly confident that their tech was so sophisticated that people who needed it (Hollywood, military simulation, oil & gas visualization, etc) would never be able to go anywhere else.

Then 3DFX came along, said “hold my beer”, and proceeded to eat their lunch. Silicon Graphics, a multinational titan of Silicon Valley, was murdered by ten people in a garage in a matter of months. A pretty amazing case of disruption.



I did a small project for a Sun photo shoot during the early part of their glory days when they were growing exponentially. I sent them an invoice for $2700, and was mailed a check for $27,000.

Because I was honest as well as (arguably) foolish, I called their attention to the mistake and never cashed the check. I occasionally wonder it they would have ever caught the mistake on their own. Given how out of control they seemed at the time, they quite likely would have never noticed, but at least I never lost any sleep over doing the “right thing.”


I started my life in IT as a SUN Systems Administrator with SunOS 5.2, so the early days of Solaris.

I can still remember the horrors of :
Printer configuration
partitioning drive slices
“moving” a system by unplugging the ID chip from one motherboard and plugging it in on another one
SCSI terminators (not specifically Sun, but it still fits)

OTOH the hardware ran forever and just continued to work when other systems had long given up the ghost. SPARC hardware was a joy to work with.

I have a SparcStation 5 sitting on a shelf for prosperity’s sake, but it hasn’t been powered on in decades and the capacitors are almost certainly dead. Still have the shiny mouse mat, so the optical mouse would work


Always wondered who authored the crazy logoff horoscopes on Sun systems, they were really funny. Wish I had copied them off to share with all the folks that will never see them.


worked at sun as well. it was a great place to work but boy were people really spending the cash. the tapeout party for picojava (or maybe it was microjava, can’t remember) kind of ruined everything. i think the whole team went to, well, Java, and that got mcnealy’s attention. that kind of thing never happened again.

now that i’m thinking about it, i think picojava directly executed java bytecodes, which was insane. i thought we learned from symbolics (and RISC/SPARC/MIPS) that this sort of thing was the Wrong Thing To Do ™

oh well, those were the days.


Me: Ah, Sun Microsystems. Good stuff, loved their kit.

[reads the comments]

[long-dormant eye twitch returns]


When I worked for my university’s IT department at the turn of the century, they still used Sun servers for everything (including roaming profiles that worked across various Windows, SGI and even Mac labs), and I was enough of a nerd to find this classy, but as a younger nerd I could also see how quaint it was getting to spend that kind of money on the tech equivalent of rich Corinthian leather.