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Sun founders confess all during walk down workstation lane

Future is either bright or executable

All grown up with somewhere to go

The founders more or less jumped from Sun's early days right to the end with Gage and some audience participants asking for a current assessment of the company. We've never seen this happen before, but McNealy actually turned red a couple of times. Perhaps it was just the warm lights.

Joy and Khosla – the two ex-Sun staff – think the company is heading in the right direction, especially with the return of Bechtolsheim.

"I think (openness) is the theme we had in the beginning, and you're seeing it come around again," Joy said. "I think also Andy returning to the company and building some of the incredible designs.

"You put those two things together, and it gives me a lot of hope."

"It is really a matter of execution," Khosla said.

McNealy tossed out the usual lines about Sun having plenty of money in the bank and consistently generating cash.

"We made some mistakes during the bubble, but we also put some cash in the bank," he said.

In addition, McNealy rightly noted that much of the remaining innovation in the hardware market centers on just two companies – IBM and Sun. No other companies will commit to making their own chips, operating system and server software.

"It has really gotten to be us and IBM as the only companies doing R and D," he said.

McNealy then went on to knock HP, saying that there's a point at which a firm that OEMs all its car parts has to give up calling itself a car company and switch to being called a car dealer.

Out of the solar system

Away from Sun chat, the executives presented their thoughts on a number of issues.

McNealy on outsourcing:

"I don’t know who is driving the fear that if someone (overseas) goes to work I will lose a job here. It just isn't true.

The only thing you should fear is that these developing countries don't develop. That is what breeds the ignorance, the terrorists and all the rest of it."

And on H1-B visas:

"We are just torching ourselves by not letting all the really smart people into the Valley. We shouldn't let them in unless they agree to stay for 10 years after they get their degree."

Turing to Bechtolsheim, McNealy said, "How many billions of dollars of taxes have you paid? You are hardly a burden on our society."

And what session would be complete without Joy discussing the future of man or at least man's privacy.

"Scott is right that technology and privacy are on collision courses. . . Technology makes (surveillance and tracking) cheap."

"The tip toward the public space being made less private . . . is one that's hard to fight. It kind of has Moore's Law on its side. We have to hold onto what we want with the law, but technology doesn't make that easy."

One of the more hilarious moments came as McNealy described a lecture Joy once gave in Japan. The audience was writing down every utterance from Joy, paying painfully close attention to the icon. As Joy moved across a whiteboard, he would change the color of his chalk from time-to-time without noticing.

"It looked like a rainbow," McNealy said. "And on (Joy's) way out, he said, 'And the colors matter.'"

"They still haven't erased the board. I am convinced this is why (Japan) is no longer a threat in the computer industry."

Any of you hoping for a moment of clarity about starting a successful venture will find little help from the Sun founders.

"You are never completely without doubt," Khosla said. "You always have concerns and doubts. Those of you who are thinking about (starting a company) – you have to just jump in."

By contrast.

"I didn't have any doubts," Bechtolsheim said.

And when Bechtolsheim doesn’t have doubts, you should listen. He put the original money behind Sun, VMware and Google. He's got to be one of the top five investors of all time. Not bad for a hardware genius and founder of multi-billion dollar company.

Oh yeah, he's really humble and generous too. As it turns out, nice guys can do okay. ®

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