Forget About An Apple-Sun Merger

John C. Dvorak is an odd bird. He’s still capable of thinking and writing convincingly and perceptively, but too often his muse deserts him or takes him down blind alleys in dodgy neighborhoods.

Sometimes he gets lost entirely and can’t find his way back to reason. Such is the case with his latest speculation regarding a possible (well, nearly anything is possible) merger between Apple and Sun. He got the idea as he pondered hidden meanings and ulterior motives behind Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s recent election to the Apple board of directors.

Dvorak’s logic on this one is convoluted and more twisted than some of the plot lines in Oliver Stone’s JFK, so I invite you to see for yourself rather than have me go through the psychic contortions of trying to explain it to you. Suffice it to say, I’m not buying this leap into the deep end of the conjectural pool.

Dvorak also mentions longstanding rumors of a 3Com-Apple merger, which is even more ludicrous — if only slightly less so — than a melding of Apple and Sun.

What is 3Com today? It’s got TippingPoint IPS product portfolio, some enterprise LAN switches, a me-too line of IP PBXes, a diminishing and diminished presence in SME products and the channels that serve them, and a joint venture with Chinese networking powerhouse Huawei that increasingly is becoming 3Com’s only real hope of future success. Now where, I ask you in all seriousness, is a compelling fit between Apple and that particular melange?

As for Apple and Sun, again, where’s the business logic? He says cultures between the two companies are similar, but I don’t see it.

Perhaps some of the board-level guys at each company see each other occasionally at golf courses, ridiculously expensive eateries, charity polo matches, bocce tournaments, and whatever else the obscenely rich in the Valley do when they’re not devising means of making more money, but the working cultures of the two companies couldn’t be more different.

Sun’s roots are in technical computing, and that lineage remains. It grew up serving engineers and scientists as core customers, and it in some ways it has retrenched into that identity in its post-bubble incarnation.

The company doesn’t have a clue what consumers do or how they interact with technology, and it doesn’t want to know. That’s not its audience, not the ones who pay its freight.

Look at its awkward, unwieldy attempts at taking Java to the masses. It worked so well that other companies commercialized the technology far more effectively in most markets.

Sun doesn’t understand consumers, and it never will. Instead, it knows and understands engineers, scientists, and system administrators. It makes a mean server — Andy Bechtolsheim and his team have done more with the AMD Opteron server architecture than any other team in the business — but I’m not sure Apple really wants to part with scads of capital (Sun sports a current market capitalization of $17.8 billion) and a larger measure of control to get into that business.

Speaking of Apple, what does it know best? Not technical computing, that’s for sure.

Apple knows how to design and create elegant, robust, reliable, and immensely fashionable computing and entertainment experiences for consumers and creative professionals. The Sun culture and the Apple culture — where it counts, not on the golf courses — could not be more different.

Apple’s creativity and laser focus on the consumer experience would clash horribly with Sun’s hardcore under-the-covers, engineering-is-all ethos.

Only at Sun could the RISC-based SPARC architecture still commend such a significant share of corporate time and resources. Why? Because Sun’s SPARC-based servers address the needs, however esoteric and specialized, of the small but influential (especially at Sun) high-performance computing market segment.

The only way a Sun-Apple tie up would make sense is if the latter wanted to get into virtualized clusters and supercomputing in a big way, and I don’t see that happening.

Think carefully about his one, folks. Apple buying Sun? In a word, no.

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