Sun Fishworks vs. Apple iPhone

I’m a big apple fan. Everyone knows that. What everyone might not know is that I’m also a Sun fan. When I was younger I worked for an ISP that used Sun boxes. I worked on a few of them in college. I’m not an expert on a Sun box, but I always liked the company and what they stood for, and had no complaints with the systems I used.

Sun has been having a hard time recently. Their stock isn’t doing too well, and they haven’t really released anything too significant or market changing. In a world that was once dominated by the Sun OS, companies like Google have come along and produced massive success using nothing but linux pizza box machines. Sun is in charge of Java, but I’m not sure how they are developing a large enough revenue stream to support their previous infrastructure.

Sun recently released Fishworks, a product designed to be an integrated hardware and software platform. They used this platform to develop an integrated network storage solution. This post explains how they went from the end product idea to the platform design, through product implementation.

I’m not fully aware of what exactly Fishworks is (Network storage isn’t my area of expertise at the moment), but I just thought it was interesting the difference in approach between Fishworks and the iPhone.

These products are completely different. One is a network storage device, the other is a piece of consumer electronics. There are some important similarities:

  • Both Are Major Engineering Projects
  • Both Are Championed By Computer Companies
  • Both Are Intended to Be Sold to Clients
  • Both Are Considered To, Potentially, Be the Future Of Their Company

Within these similarities it is interesting to note how Sun and Apple differ in their product design cycles. Sun releases a product with a bunch of back end architecture, they announce the product, and don’t keep the design a secret. They share a ton of the technical details, open up the design process for anyone to read on the Internet. It is evident that the focus of the product development cycle, that Sun is not just focused on the end product, but also very heavily on the path and technology used to get there.

Apple releases the iPhone, talks about the functionality, and maybe a very high level overview of how the phone is built, but they keep it simple. Only after it is released do they start to think about developers and extensions. Their primary focus is getting the phone right. In contrast to Sun’s focus, their focus is on the end user, not necessarily the path to get there. Their hesitation on developing an iPhone SDK might have somewhat hindered their initial sales.

This is not say that the iPhone is a better built product than the Fishworks machines. I wouldn’t know, I don’t have experience with Fishworks (or anything else in its product class, either). It is just interesting how different companies present their products and focus. I have several semi-random thoughts:

  1. Apple is growing into a new product space. In the recent past Apple has been mostly a consumer product manufacturer, making relatively the same line of products since its inception. The change from Apple Computer to Apple Inc. carries more than just a name change, but a more global product shift. In this new area, Apple is young, Sun is old. Maybe Sun has learned the lesson about the importance of the technology behind a product.
  2. Sun might be too focused on the technology and not enough on their end users. Sun has been spending much of its time working on products like Java and OpenOffice. These projects are important, they help proliferate the name of Sun Microsystems, but they are both open source. They don’t provided direct revenue for Sun. Perhaps Fishworks will be different, maybe it will follow the same path.
  3. There will always be a place in this world for new hardware design. When I graduated college I was convinced that the future would be software based. Hardware would become irrelevant and software would be where the real innovation would happen. Both of the products I’m talking about here are a marriage of fantastic hardware and great software. While the hardware that I used in college is dying, new hardware products are emerging.