09/12/2021

065 – 3M Computing – 1982

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Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower. Steve Jobs

The first 3M computer – one megapixel display, one megabyte of memory and a one million instructions per second speed – was developed by a graduate student at Stanford in May 1982; for a personal CAD workstation called Sun-1, for Stanford University Network.

Andy Bechtolsheim, born in Germany, studied engineering at the University of Technology Munich.  He won a Fulbright Award at nineteen and moved to the USA to gain his master’s at Carnegie Mellon and PhD at Stanford.

Frustrated by having to wait for computer access at Stanford, he designed the Sun-1 with a UNIX OS and built-in networking.  Vinod Khosla at Stanford Business School suggested they use the product as a basis for a business.  With Scott McNealy at Stanford and UCB student Bill Joy, they founded Sun Microsystems in February 1982; Khosla was the first chairman and CEO, McNealy would later become Sun CEO.

Bill Joy had created the 1BSD UNIX in 1977 and a year later improved this with 2BSD that included his ‘vi’ text editor and the C shell; both became standard in subsequent UNIX systems.

1982 – Sun hit profit in its first quarter selling 68000-based SunOS workstations for financial organisations and telecom companies.  It introduced NFS, network file sharing, licence-free which ignited PC networking from 1986 onwards.  1986 Sun’s IPO benefited from the dot.com wave as all those involved required workstations and servers.

Sun developed scalable processor architecture to deliver improved performance and then in an alliance with AT&T, created a UNIX business computer that used the Unix System V Release 4.  By 1988 this had become the workstation market leader, $1bn+ in sales revenue. 

1991 – James Gosling and others at Sun developed the Java programming language.  This was object-oriented, based on C and C++.  It created a virtual machine that ensured software portability with the motto ‘write once, run anywhere’.

SunOS was upgraded to Solaris to work with SPARC workstations with an integrated OpenWindows GUI and open network computing features. 

SPARC workstations with an integrated OpenWindows GUI and open network computing features.

To combat low-cost Linux-based servers Sun introduced a new series of servers for business networking; by 1993 it had shipped its millionth system.

Sun espoused the open-source software movement by donating 1,600 of its patents and offering StarOffice and OpenSolaris as open source programs.  The dot.com bubble burst. Sun’s hardware sales dried up, its shares were decimated and it was forced to lay off staff and close manufacturing sites – but it came back.

It acquired MySQL in 2008 for $1bn and entered the $15bn database sector.  The next year Sun was acquired by the database market leader Oracle for $7.4bnand renamed Oracle America Inc.

Steve Jobs helped create the Apple University Consortium to offer faculty members, students and their institutions Apple equipment at a discounted rate; by 1984 it was responsible for $50m in Apple sales.

Paul Berg was a Nobel Prizewinner for Chemistry working on recombinant DNA.  He needed 3M capabilities to make any progress and challenged Steve Jobs to develop a 3M computer.

September 1985 – Jobs announced that he was leaving Apple and at the same time described his intention to build a 3M computer to focus on the higher-education sector.   This was to develop the NeXT computer.

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