May 1992

Slugfest at SunWorld Expo

by Clair Whitmer

Santa Clara, CA: NeXT took its guerrilla marketing campaign against Sun Microsystems directly to the source last month here at SunWorld Expo.

Besides its large booth at the show, NeXT dropped off a promotional package at the hotel room of every Expo participant. The package included a ten-page letter from CEO Steve Jobs rebutting an anti-NeXT Sun sales presentation; a copy of the "NeXT vs. Sun: A World of Difference" videotape; a sales brochure; and a copy of a thumbs-up review of the NeXTstation Turbo Color from SunWorld magazine. NeXT also paid to continuously display the NeXT vs. Sun video on a 16-monitor video wall outside the show floor.

After receiving complaints from Sun, expo management cancelled NeXT's video wall presentation on the third day of the show.

"Steve wants to pick a fight with Sun because he thinks that would put him in the big leagues," said Sun CEO Scott McNealy. "Who cares about NeXT? We worry about IBM, DEC, HP, and Microsoft," he said.

The two companies have been exchanging barbs ever since Jobs identified Sun as the "mother of all competitors" at NeXTWORLD Expo in January. In his keynote speech at SunWorld, McNealy criticized NeXT for its lack of adherence to industry standards.

The latest round of hostilities began when NeXT learned of a Sun sales presentation that criticized NeXT's technology and business viability (see "Mud flies in Sun-NeXT skirmish," NeXTWORLD Extra, March 1992). In response, Jobs wrote the ten-page open letter to registered customers titled "Sun Declares War on NeXT." The letter rebuts 30 statements, including allegations that Jobs is meeting the company's payroll out of his own pocket; Canon is looking for a buyer for its shares; and NeXTSTEP technology isn't portable and has limited drag-and-drop capabilities.

But while Jobs's cover letter states that "[b]y all indications, this document originates from the top levels of Sun," Sun says the presentation was the work of a Sun salesperson who distributed the material without the knowledge of corporate marketing.

NeXT has also leaked another internal Sun document called "Competing against NeXT, or Changing the Rules of the Game." The memo advises Sun salespeople to counter NeXT's advantages in ease of development by promoting Sun's strengths in open systems, development tools, client-server models, networking protocols, scalability, and third-party software base. But it also gives a nod to NeXT's advantages with statements like: "They have found their mark in accounts where end-users need rapid development and prototyping . . . NeXT will win when the sale is reduced to easy end-user, object-oriented development."

While NeXT publicly complains that such documents amount to "slander sheets" and "unprofessional bullying," NeXT executives admit they enjoy the attention and see such material under a Sun logo as backhanded compliments.

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