Sun Microsystems announced on Monday the shocking resignation of Alan Baratz, president of the Software Products and Platforms division, who will become an executive at a venture capital firm.
As the head of Sun's Java efforts in the past several years, Baratz has ushered Sun deeper into the software realm than the hardware company had ever tread before. He oversaw the conceptualisation, drafting, and wide dissemination of dozens of Java specifications in a bold bid to set new industry standards and take on software powerhouse Microsoft.
Baratz, 44, will join New York-based Warburg, Pincus & Co on its information technology team, which was formed last year. The privately held company, which manages some $US12 billion in assets, has investments in such companies as BEA Systems, Covad Communications, EarthWeb, Level One Communications, Nova, SHL Systemhouse, and Veritas Software.
Until the Software Products and Platforms division was set up earlier this year at Sun, Baratz had for three years been the president of the Java Software division. According to a Sun spokesman, the timing of Baratz's leaving came as a surprise, although Sun executives knew that he wanted to move on. Baratz was promoted in June, however, which made his departure more of a surprise to Sun officials.
Jon Kannegaard, vice president and general manager of the Java Platform division, will take over Baratz's role on an acting basis, reporting to Sun president and COO Ed Zander. Sun said it would begin an "aggressive search" for Baratz's replacement.
Baratz, who will remain at Sun for only two more weeks, was heading up the Solaris, Java, Jini, and developer tools product lines, as well as Sun's developer relations program. He was a familiar figure at Sun product launches and press conferences, often the one deferred to by chairman and CEO Scott McNealy to take on technical issues and questions.
Baratz was also the product launch ringleader at the June JavaOne conference in San Francisco, at which Sun launched the Java2 Enterprise Edition and MicroJava set of specifications.
The resignation will amount to a significant loss for Sun, said Anne Thomas, an analyst at the Patricia Seybold Group in Boston.
"It's always very challenging for a company to lose a CEO, and Alan was essentially the CEO of Java. He's been able to keep the 'church and state' parts of Sun separate," she said, referring to Sun's stewardship of Java specifications (church) and its own development of Java-based products (state).
"It's a loss. He's been a good coordinating force in the JavaSoft organisation. He was both good at the technical and managerial side. I'll miss him as the head of the group," Thomas said.
In hindsight, Baratz may have come under some criticism for Sun's acquisitions activity in recent years, Thomas added. Both the NetDynamics and Diba acquisitions have not played out well for Sun, while other companies, notably tools vendors, might have been ripe for the plucking but were left on the branch, Thomas said.
Another analyst said Baratz's shoes will be hard to fill, and that the position forms a critical role at a critical time for Sun.
"It takes a strong personality to compensate for Sun's aggressiveness," said Tim Sloane, an analyst at Aberdeen Group in Boston. "[Baratz's leaving] is a huge hole within the Sun/Java alignment. You take a look at all the issues that confront Java right now. I couldn't think of a worse time to pass the baton," Sloane said.
"You have all the Java cloners pushing and testing the licensing model," Sloane said of current challenges for Java. "You have efforts that span Enterprise JavaBean all the way down to the embedded devices.
"It's such a huge operation, and its leader needs to be both relationship and technically savvy. You don't bring in someone from Pepsi to do this [and] you have to be careful not to jerk the rudder too hard with a mismatched candidate," Sloane said.
Sloane ventured that Pat Sueltz, IBM's general manager of Java Software, would be a top-tier candidate to replace Baratz.
"I think Pat has done an excellent job. She has the business savvy and also understands the technology and has strong customer interaction. She also comes across as a straightforward individual," said Sloane.