Externalizing myth as marketing

Don’t get me wrong. I like Scott McNealy.  In the dry world of technology, his pithy quotes are worthy of a compilation, if not an occasional Poison Pen Award.

But a weakness in marketing was painfully exposed in McNeay’s recent eWeek guest column.  Therein, Scott proceeded to create a myth in order to sell Sun’s current weak position in the market.  Aside from being a possible sign of desperation, it was transparently inaccurate (the only other explanation is that Scott is delusional, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt).

Distilled, he argues that IT generally has no technology “exit strategy.”  His assertion is that IT does not understand or anticipate the cost of abandoning technology, and that they need to have an “exit strategy” checklist.

This is a blind assumption.  For decades IT execs have worried about technology lock-in, and have been party to the drive toward standards-based computing.  Indeed, Sun was a favorite child of IT for many years given that Sun helped drive the mass adoption of UNIX, and reduced the technology switching costs for IT through competition with IBM, HP and other UNIX vendors.

So why would a person and a company so familiar with the perpetual advance of standards-based computing dismiss IT’s participation in the process, and their forward-thinking outlooks on technology adoption? 

Because Sun is in a bind.

Linux and Open Source caught Sun by surprise.  Linux started life as a commodity, with little differentiation between Linux flavors.  Linux has helped force the commoditization of servers, by reducing their differentiation.  Indeed, some analysts believe that Linux on x86 can now serve the needs of almost any IT computing demand.

IT drove this change.  IT adopted Linux in part because it eliminated many technology switching costs (whereas UNIX only reduced switching costs).  IT adopted x86 servers because it reduced IBM, HP and Dell to commodity vendors.  Yet Scott does not recognize this in his guest column. 

Why?  Because Sun needs a myth to stem this  tide.

Sun failed to see the growing Open Source trend, whereas IBM and HP capitalized on it.  This left Sun in the bad position of having their entire brand and market differentiation assaulted.  The only thing worse than Sun’s lackadaisical reaction to commodity computing has been their attempts to subvert it.  Sun has half-opened their software inventory, under terms that no coherent person would call “Open Source”.  Yet Scott sells the new Sun “openness” as if it were better than the very market force that is crushing Sun’s market share.

To sell this, he must have a truth or a myth.  Since there was not a handy truth to support Sun’s marketing plan, a myth was created — that IT didn’t have good technology exit strategies.

The truth is that IT’s exit strategy is driving commoditization of the server stack.  And for Sun, the truth hurts.


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