Mike Slinn

Decentralized Ponytails

Published 2018-09-13.
Time to read: 5 minutes.

This page is part of the posts collection, categorized under Blockchain, Open Source.

I’d like to point out the similarity of the early days of the open-source movement with today’s decentralized blockchain movement.

Open-source software was brought to mainstream attention during the last technology bubble at the end of the last millennium. The open-source software movement had a loyal cadre of zealots who believed that their cause would overcome any need for a business case. Sun Microsystems was the hardware company whose servers powered the Internet, and their software included the Java programming language, plus many other important networking-related products. Sun's slogan was “The network is the computer”.

Sun Microsystems logo

Jonathan Schwartz, the CEO of Sun Microsystems was one of the open-source zealots. He was famous for his ponytail. Unfortunately, zealotry and dogma is bad for business, and as a result Sun Microsystems is no longer with us.

Jonathan Schwartz and his ponytail
Jonathan Schwartz and his ponytail

Eventually, companies like Red Hat developed solid business models for open-source software, but that took years to develop. Today we see many companies attempting using decentralized blockchain technology to create cryptocurrencies, other token-based economies, and evangelizing decentralized dogma without a solid business case. Most of these ventures will die a horrible death, and the investors will get nothing. It will take years for solid business models based on decentralization to be proven.

Mr. Schwartz's ponytail was the fashion statement that fueled the YouTube parody below. For background, Scott McNealy was the previous CEO at Sun Microsystems.

Full disclosure: I also had a ponytail in 2008, and for a few years I had my Sun Spark 2 workstation at home.

Mike Slinn and his ponytail back in 2008
Mike Slinn and his ponytail back in 2008

Here is a transcription of the video, which I paraphrased for clarity:

Steve Gilmore: Hi, this is Steve Gilmore and this is a video special edition of the Gilmore gang. I'm here with Jonathan Schwartz. It's a great pleasure – it's been a long, long time coming – I haven't seen Jonathan for quite a while. Jonathan Schwartz, who is the president and CEO of Sun Microsystems, agreed to sit down for the first time in three or four years and talk about what's going on with Sun. I wanna start, Jonathan, by thanking you for joining us.

Jonathan Schwartz: Thank you for having me, Steve. It has been a long time, nice to see you.

Steve Gilmore: So, you know there's been a lot of turmoil on Wall Street as I know you know.

Jonathan Schwartz: Yes.

Steve Gilmore: What's your take on that?

Jonathan Schwartz: Well, I think that it's a cyclical thing as you know Sun was been very prepared for this because we took three quarters of a billion dollars off of KKR a few years ago so that's in our war chest and I think that we're in a very good position moving forward, Steve.

Steve Gilmore: Ahh, and specifically what are you doing?

Jonathan Schwartz: Well, what we're doing is as you know Sun has always been very proactive in the open-source movement. I know you're very familiar with that. What we want to do to help our customers during this very difficult time is keep up with that trend of open-source. So I'm actually very pleased to announce, Steve, that Sun is starting a new open-source initiative. We're going to be releasing the source code to my ponytail as open-source, Steve.

Steve Gilmore: How's that going to help the situation?

Jonathan Schwartz: It's open-source, Steve.

Steve Gilmore: Yeah.

Jonathan Schwartz: It's my ponytail, Steve.

Steve Gilmore: You know, we've had this conversation in the past.

Jonathan Schwartz: Yes.

Steve Gilmore: Something is open-source, fine, and you get a lot of adoption, you get a lot of exposure in the in the marketing arena...

Jonathan Schwartz: Yes.

Steve Gilmore: ... but how do you make money on your ponytail?

Jonathan Schwartz: Well, what we're going to be doing is releasing my ponytail as open-source. So what we're hoping is that our developers take my ponytail and develop some kind of revenue stream with my ponytail. Did I mention this is open-source, Steve?

Steve Gilmore: Yeah, so how do you open-source a ponytail? What does that mean?

Jonathan Schwartz: Well, basically what we do is, we will have some of our best and brightest engineers here at Sun go through my ponytail and find out the unique attributes about what makes my ponytail so successful in the valley. And what we've done Steve, we've open-sourced my ponytail, Steve.

Steve Gilmore: Jonathan, you're just repeating this over and over again; it doesn't necessarily arrive at a business model.

Jonathan Schwartz: Umm, Steve?

Steve Gilmore: Yeah.

Jonathan Schwartz: We're gonna take my ponytail right and make it open-source. Now I know that this is a big concept for you but I really think it's a game changer, Steve.

Steve Gilmore: So, who do you see as your competition in the open-source ponytail arena?

Jonathan Schwartz: I think that we pretty much have it locked up. I don't see anybody who can compete with Sun Microsystems, when it comes to the open-source ponytail market. I think that we're in very good shape, Steve. How much do you miss Scott McNealy?

Steve Gilmore: Right now, a lot.

Jonathan Schwartz: Not nearly as much as I do, Steve.

Steve Gilmore: Okay, so what are you gonna do about, uh, you've laid off a lot of people in the last few months.

Jonathan Schwartz: Yes, it's going well in fact we have another round of layoffs coming. Once the ponytail is released into the wild, we'll be releasing the team that open-sourced my ponytail, Steve.

Steve Gilmore: Well you know I have to say that I was hoping for something a little bit more visionary from you Jonathan.

Jonathan Schwartz: Well I think that this is quite visionary. I don't think that IBM will be releasing a ponytail, and if they did it certainly wouldn't be open-source, Steve. We are very, very excited about our open-source ponytail program if you want you can go to sunmicrosystems.com/ponytail. Any other questions, Steve?

Steve Gilmore: Yeah I got one that I hope will be a stumper for you, which is a do you see the relationship between your open-source ponytail strategy and micro-messaging as popularized by Twitter?

Jonathan Schwartz: I'd like to open the pipe to the ponytail. Except as you know, Twitter is not exactly handling XMPP correctly at this time. I don't see the correlation between an open-source ponytail, and a closed-off micro-blogging system. Steve, I think that the ponytail is much bigger than Twitter.

Steve Gilmore: And the business model again?

Jonathan Schwartz: Let me see this real slowly and clearly: OPEN. SOURCE. PONYTAIL.

Steve Gilmore: This has been Jonathan Schwartz along with me, Steve Gilmore. Good luck, Jon.

Jonathan Schwartz: Thank you Steve. God, I miss McNealy. Think it's going to work?

Steve Gilmore: No.

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