Has anyone ever wondered why Intel and Sun Microsystems, the two largest microprocessor design companies in silicon valley, fought pretty well everyone else, but not each other, for over 20 years? Here is a beautiful and fantastic story explaining decades of peace and prosperity, based on a secret alliance for which I was the architect. Almost no one noticed it, and absolutely no one could destroy it. Not even Microsoft.
My ex-wife, bless her heart, often said I should write an autobiography, because I have been responsible for unknown events that have affected millions of people—for the better, gladly....and finally I am going to do what she said I always should have done: tell a long hidden truth about the success of silicon valley which I helped make. So now I am finally breaking silence. Looking back what puzzles me the most is this. Over the years I have often told little stories of playing pool with the chairman of Intel, Gordon Moore, while we were both dead drunk; picking up girls with the father of Unix, Bill Joy, at a San Francisco Christmas party; and not least of all, beating Steve Jobs driving his Lamborghini in a car race, while I was in an old beat-up Subaru with much of the metal shell removed.
What's puzzling is, while I've told these stories many times, no one except my ex-wife ever asked why such important people were friendly to me in the first place. So here is the reason, and it is, in short, because I was the hidden architect of a successful business model in silicon valley--a business model that was so successful, in fact, and so secret, its secrecy has out-survived many of us who put it in place--and almost out-survived me, which is really why I am finally telling it, that a fundamental reason behind the long-standing success of silicon valley be more known to those who care.
Yet while I write this, almost no one knows about this astounding success story, because it was a total, complete, and absolutely one of the most successful secrets in technology’s business history, and none of us wanted to jeopardize it while it worked.;
1. The Beginnings
This all started over the time 1992-1994 when I was a young, idealist, independent contractor, having moved to Silicon Valley after working for Gerry Leeds at CMP (Manhasset, NY), sadly recently deceased. At that time I was often asked to company parties and business meetings for two reasons. First, a fact I didn’t normally tell people because it frightened them, I was a child prodigy and partial eidetic. I was fluent in Latin and ancient Greek by age 10. My IQ is faded, but in those days it was 175. I read a book a day throughout high school, and by the time I arrived in silicon valley in 1989, I could read a 4-day technical conference proceedings overnight, then repeat large sections of it verbatim the following day. However, much as that might seem unusual, there were dozens of others I met in silicon valley who were more intelligent than me in those earlier days, and i think my abilities were less important than my ideals. I believed, well before the idea was popular, in multicultural peace and diversity, because I was a traditional Quaker. And even more importantly to company leaders, that meant I also believed in the fundamental importance of truth, and moreover, the importance of silence when it matters.
And so it was I was in the company of hundreds of company Presidents, and it was at a small party in a restaurant in silicon valley that had already become traditional for such matters (the Lion and Compass) that I first suggested the SunTel alliance.
This was a proposed informal non-competitive agreement between Intel and Sun Microsystems. It was far more successful than any of us expected, and it lasted over 20 years. I watched it prosper over those decades, because the largest and most important companies in silicon valley had silently agreed not to compete, everyone throughout the high-tech world benefited.
The basis was that Intel would keep to the consumer market, not developing high-end processors. In return Sun Microsystems would not enter the consumer market, and would design high-end workstations for integrated-circuit design. At that time, Apple was not so significant, and the main fear was that Microsoft would attempt to take over silicon valley.
At first there were Vice Presidents in both Intel and Sun who did not want to agree, but they met with me one after another, and they all decided I had a good idea, somewhat to my astonishment. A number of them also offered me jobs to supervise the agreement, but I refused. I am technical rather than managerial, so I was glad to let other people take charge. I also suggested that if the agreement was public, others would use it to their disadvantage, especially Microsoft. So the agreement should be kept a friendly secret.
And so it was Microsoft tried a number of times to drive a wedge between Sun and Intel, and cause both companies to fight each other, then step in as they wasted resources fighting each other to take over. But the problem it had was this. It could never find out exactly why the two companies were in such deep alliance. That reason was me, and Microsoft never found my true work in all those years, even though once it tried to hire me. The truth was, I wanted to pursue the design of better microprocessors inside engineering, and for a number of reasons, I was deeply hidden inside various companies, the main facts of which I will describe here.
2. Writing the Infamous Appendix J
In 1994, I was brought inside Intel to write about the Pentium, for which I did a series of performance tests, which, to be specific in more detail than most would want to know, determined the processor would actually work better if it was RISC rather than CISC, and ran at a higher clock rate with larger cache. However, the VP of sales at Intel had already started serious investment in a multimillion dollar ad campaign to coincide with the Windows 95 release, and he was furious at my findings. He paraded some of the dancers for the TV commercials he was planning past me, dressed in shiny silver clean-room suits, saying ‘this is the truth people want, not your boring facts about cache sizes!’ And more, loud enough for people to hear three floors away. And in the midst of his tirades he shouted how I should be fired for telling my boring truth.
But another VP thought I was right. He had hired me to do technical work, and it substantiated his own technical work. Thus I found myself living like a ping-pong ball between two giants, each with hundreds of people working for them, and the best actions seemed to be to quit. So Intel said ok, if you want to leave, we will guarantee you freelance work whenever you want, if you agree to keep the SunTel alliance secret, because over the last few days, we all decided you were right. And Intel decided to keep my research secret. It became the infamous Appendix J of the Intel Architecture Reference, and over the next decade there were occasional articles about it, even an entire website trying to find out what it said, at one time, all of which I watched go by silently.…
3. Dancing Bunnysuits and Blue Men
So the secret SunTel alliance continued. Occasionally over the years I had to really suppress saying anything. Strangely enough, the most difficult time I had keeping silent was when a manager in 2001 wanted to take me to hear the Blue Man group, because he had liked the Intel commercials. By then, the whole Internet explosion was shooting like fireworks everywhere one looked in Silicon Valley. And the whole idea of Intel hiring the Blue Man Group was like the Greeks getting themselves mummified after the Romans conquered Egypt; they went the motions of the ancient Egyptian culture's traditions, but they didn’t really understand it. In the same way, the whole point of the 1995 Intel commercials, with their dancers in shiny silver suits (all timed to coincide with the rollout of Windows 95) was that in those days, most people were truly frightened of clean rooms. People generally thought all the big machines and precautions to keep them clean were some kind of cultural intrusion by aliens from another planet. So the good public relations people in Intel of the time decided they needed to help people think semiconductor manufacture is nice and fun, rather than evil and alien, for the consumer market to be successful. That was the original rationale.
Then the Blue Man group appeared. Why? Because people had forgotten anyone was ever frightened of clean rooms, but they remembered and llked the dancing antics in the earlier commercials. Now you may wonder why I share this story at such length. What it actually goes to show is that, no matter how much that Vice president of Sales at Intel in 1994 was angry at me, I had to respect his opinion. He was right. I knew it at the time, and history proves it is true. So not only was I working for another VP who was technical like me, but also I had to admit what he hired me to do, which I liked doing, was not the best thing to do for everyone else. Moreover, I needed a salesman like that, whatever I thought of him personally, and however much he tried to ruin my life, to make my SunTel vision come true--a vision which, ironically, he was not privy to at the time.
Moreover, because he had shouted at me so loudly, no one ever suspected I was also friends with his superiors. So his actions actually secured our secret, although it let to alot of public scorn, which explains why the Chairman of Intel got drunk with me, and I was invited to fancy parties for people with salaries ten times my own; and why Steve Jobs later enjoyed our car races. He didn't originally believe me that Intel would beat Sun in the end. He had thought that Sun would take over. Sometimes I miss our long technical arguments about Unix and CISC...
Meanwhile, for the SunTel alliance to work, Intel had to be successful in the consumer market, and not get involved in higher end products. Similarly, Sun had to stay out of the consumer market. And better people than me have been secretly working for years to keep that true, because new executives keep popping up who think they can drive someone else out of business and take over their company. So while I was having fun learning all kinds of new technologies, a handful of executives in silicon valley in silicon valley have been secretly going around bopping heads to keep SunTel going. They never told anyone either. They are the ones who deserve the real credit. I just thought of it. But as its conceiver, it falls upon me to reveal the truth of what was happening.
So I kept silent until it was truly over, as I promised. I never asked for help from Intel or Sun. Occasionally Intel hired me again for some small freelance projects, and occasionally it did help me get other work. So i kept silent about SunTel. I was learning new things all the time, and everyone’s business was going just great,and both Sun and Intel grew and blossomed, and all the companies working between them grew and blossomed too. I had no reason to reveal the secret.
4. The End of the Alliance
But now it is over. In the last few years, Sun was bought by Oracle. As was eventually inevitable, in my opinion, Intel's technology would grow in power until Sun just could not add sufficient value over it to stay in business. I knew this would happen one day, and I was never entirely sure what to do about it. I didn't originally think the Suntel alliance would last so long, but it did. And I thought the computer market would eclipse, and Apple rise in power too; but how to maintain the balance after that, I was not sure. I thought I was going to have to meet everyone again and find some new alliance.
Then Steve Jobs got very sick. That was a serious blow to us all.
So when Oracle bought Sun, I talked with some people about going back to work at Oracle again. But really I don't need a six figure salary any more, and they already have an Oxford man there; and it was very stressful work. The SunTel alliance was over. Then I was also very sad about Steve Jobs ill health and later death. I used to enjoy car racing with him on the backstreets of silicon valley....and now I think I would die of stress like him if I went back.
So really that is the end of my silicon valley story. It transpired my wife was more concerned with my salary than my health, and in the end she took a significant wad of my own savings in a divorce, hoping I would decide to get back into the technology wars. While I would not again, we were at Oxford together, and despite the insistence of other richer people that I should be more hostile, I could not get myself to hate her and really fight for myself and let her take most of my savings. After all, I had invented the Suntel alliance. So now I am happy with my cat and hermitage, I don't really want to mix with the bigwigs any more. I feel like I did my service. I've only told a few people about it ever before outside the Suntel meetings. One said he wanted to make a movie about it. But I want to make my own movie software instead. I was a ping pong ball for too long, and now I am going to be an artist instead. It is another person's turn to find a way to make peace in the hectic world of technology business, and whoever it is, that person has my deepest sympathy.
That is my story. It seems strange to me that it is here where I end up sharing it publicly. Now I can see the writing on the wall, and the turning of the business cogs yet again....and the fall of Apple’s empire is inevitable….but I don't have any need to prove my opinion is right over others yet again….But as I am watching it all go by yet again, history repeating a new way in the same old way...it does seem like it is time for my to break silence, after all these many long years, and so say whom I really am.
I was the architect of a peace that lasted two decades, within which there was a blossoming of new conceptions and technological growth the likes of which has never happened anywhere else ever.
Perhaps the most surprising fact of all, is despite innumerable articles and commentaries by so many intelligent people, that almost no one ever noticed the hidden heart of silicon valley's successful edge over those who wanted to take it over: our SunTel alliance. To those who helped it: may you all Rest in Peace. You deserve it.