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Sun's Founders Recall The Early Days

The Computer History Museum recently hosted the four Sun founders, who shared memories of the first few months of the company's success. CEO Scott McNealy would answer Sun's five sales phone lines all day, then head back to the warehouse to build machines and write purchase orders.

They haven't appeared together in public for years, so it was a real treat last month when the Computer History Museum played host to the Fab Four--the four founders of Sun Microsystems, that is: Vinod Khosla, Bill Joy, Andy Bechtolsheim, and Scott McNealy (left to right, above).

The four were in good humor, and they had a few new memories to share. Joy, for example, revealed that Sun has tried to acquire Apple Computer three times over the years, once through an outright acquisition and twice through mergers. Joy said he gets along well with Apple CEO Steve Jobs and considers it "a personal disappointment" that the companies never built a stronger relationship.

McNealy was less complimentary about Apple, comparing the iPod to the invention of the answering machine.

"I guarantee you it will be hard to sell an iPod five or seven years from now, when every cell phone can access your entire music library wherever you are," McNealy said.

In contrast, McNealy had kind words for Joy, who was an open-source pioneer, inventing the process of community software development. "He has never gotten credit for it," McNealy said.

The four remembered the first few months of Sun's success, when McNealy would answer Sun's five sales phone lines all day, then head back to the warehouse to build machines and write purchase orders.

Sun's fortunes are obviously not as rosy today, but Joy said the industry's move toward open systems--combined with hardware guru Bechtolsheim's return to the company--could help it turn a corner. "It gives me a lot of hope," Joy said.

McNealy reportedly turned red a couple of times during questions about the current state of Sun's business. "We made some mistakes during the bubble, but we also put some cash in the bank," he said.

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