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High noon:the inside story of Scott McNealy and the rise of Sun Microsystems

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Sun Microsystems is the type of company that most new startups hope to become: massively profitable, astoundingly innovative, and supremely adaptable. But as Karen Southwick's engaging narrative High Noon makes clear, there were many bumps along the road to Sun's $25 billion market valuation. In fact, when Sun started out in the early '80s as a spinoff of the Stanford University Network (SUN), there was barely a road at all. It's hard to remember a time when there wasn't a computer on every desktop, but in 1981, engineers had to stand in line to use their company's mainframes. Sun's business strategy was to sell a desktop workstation for each employee who needed a computer. On top of that, Sun allowed those workstations to exchange data via an intracompany network, and used graphical interfaces to make them easier to navigate. Standard stuff now, but a radical series of concepts back then, and it was inevitable that Sun would clash with Microsoft. Sun CEO Scott McNealy's enmity for the software colossus is well-known--he was a key player in the U.S. government's antitrust action against Microsoft in the late 1990s--and it temporarily scattered the company's focus, leading to a major reorganization. The conclusion to the Sun story is, of course, unknown. Southwick ends her book with a peek into the future, speculating on what will become of promising computer languages like Java and Jini. But it seems like it'll be a long time before Sun sets. --Lou Schuler

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