Sun Microsystems tried to acquire Apple once and then almost merged with Apple on two other occasions, according to Sun co-founder Bill Joy. Beyond these deals, the two companies almost teamed on three other projects including sharing a user interface and the SPARC architecture. The moves were cheered by Apple fan Joy, while Sun's CEO Scott McNealy appeared less impressed with some of the proposals.
All of this we learned tonight at a Computer History Museum event where Sun's four co-founders held the stage for close to two hours.
At one point during the discussion, questioner John Gage, a longtime Sun staffer, asked McNealy about Sun's "three attempts" to buy Apple. McNealy dodged the question.
Moments later, Joy – a Unix god and venture capitalist on the side – dragged the conversation back to Apple, seeming to want to make a confession.
Joy voiced an affinity for Apple's CEO Steve Jobs and said it was a "personal disappointment" that the two companies were never closer.
"There were six very close encounters," Joy said.
The first came when Sun, Apple and Microsoft were set to agree on a common filing protocol. "We had an agreement, but it fell through," Joy said, noting that Sun ended up going with NFS – a Joy invention.
"Then we tried to get Apple and Sun to share an interface" for their software.
"We went over to Steve's house, and he was sitting under a tree with no shoes on reading How to make a Nuclear Bomb," McNealy said.
Another deal almost happened when Sun tried to move Apple onto SPARC.
"As far as I know we also almost bought Apple once," Joy said. "We almost merged with Apple two other times."
Many Silicon Valley observers have long seen links between Sun and Apple. Both companies make slick, pricey hardware and are counter-punchers in their respective markets. They also have charismatic CEO figures and strong anti-Microsoft streaks.
Snapple, however, would have needed to work hard to convince McNealy of the iPod's long-term merits. McNealy has an iPod today but never uses it. In addition, he thinks the device is quickly going the way of the Audrey.
"There's a pendulum thing where stuff is on the client side and then goes back into the network where it belongs," McNealy said. "The answering machine put voicemail by the desk, and then it went back into the network."
"Your iPod is like your home answering machine," McNealy said. "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."
Well, sure. Unless your iPod is your cell phone. ®