10 September 2003 Bill Joy, the visionary technologist who has been dubbed the “Edison of the Internet”, has announced he is to leave Sun Microsystems, the company he co-founded in 1982.
News of his departure triggered a share sale at Sun and exacerbated concerns among investors and customers that the computer company that invented Java and first commercialised the Unix operating system is losing ground against competitors IBM, HP and Dell.
Joy’s departure follows those of highly regarded chief operating officer Ed Zander, and chief financial officer Michael Lehman, both in 2002.
Along with Sun’s Science Officer John Gage, Joy is widely credited with driving a research and development led strategy at Sun that helped it to repeatedly trump rivals with new innovations.
Joy developed the Berkeley version of Unix (BSD), introduced the first highly successful Sun workstations and led the development team behind the Sparc microprocessor and of Java, the development and execution environment.
In spite of these successes, the importance of both Joy and Gage has been lessened in recent years as Sun has found itself in a price-driven battle of attrition against competitors selling more open, lower margin systems based on Intel microprocessors and Microsoft Windows or Linux software.
As a result, a number of analysts are questioning the company’s level of spending on R&D and pointing in particular to the growing competitive threat posed by systems running Linux, the open source operating system.
Joy, a billionaire, says he wants to spend time “decompressing”. It is not clear how far he will take this: in a famous 2002 article called “Why the future doesn’t need us”, he confessed to a fear that robots would soon take over the world. And he recently put his $20 million New York apartment, in a building shared with Nicole Kidman and Calvin Klein, up for sale.