Actually, SUNW reflects Sun's early position as a Unix workstation supplier: the W in its current Nasdaq symbol stands for workstation. Sun co-founder Andy Bechtolsheim designed a Unix workstation as a Stanford graduate student to run on the Stanford University Network.
CEO Jonathan Schwartz said in his blog Thursday that the existing trading symbol "has some nostalgic value and heralds back to Sun's cherished roots (in academia). ... But SUNW represents the past, and it's not without a nostalgic nod that we've decided to look ahead," he wrote. The trading-name change will take place next week. The company name, however, will remain Sun Microsystems.
Schwartz cited Java's growing brand awareness among young people, who see the Java symbol displayed on video uploader applications or Java game consoles. Java also appears on Java smartphones and other mobile devices. "The number of people who know Java swamps the number of people who know Sun," he wrote.
"There are more Java courses on university campuses than we ever imagined. Wherever it goes, Java brings limitless opportunity -- to Sun and to our partners," he wrote.
Sun programmers under James Gosling developed Java in the mid-1990s and established it in the marketplace. It jousted with Microsoft in court to prevent the company from launching a Windows-specific version of Java, settling the dispute out of court with payments to Sun.
Sun itself was a preferred brand during the dot-com boom, with Sun Solaris servers and the Java programming language being a common part of dot-com infrastructure. But the 2001 bust hit Sun hard, including its stock price. It's recovered somewhat from its January 2003 lows in the $2.60 range, but Sun is clearly hoping the Nasdaq name change will give it a boost. Its stock was trading at $4.90 by late afternoon Thursday, still at the low end of its $4.50 to $6.78 12-month range.