The success story of Sun highlights the problems experienced by other manufacturers, which are still organised around the 1960s and '70s model, when each company designed its own systems from scratch and there was little interchange of information between the manufacturers.
Today the average product lifecycle is only nine months, and it is increasingly difficult to find the funding for the development of a new range. IBM spent $1 billion on developing its new personal computers and Digital Equipment spends $1.6 billion a year on research.
Frank Owen, technical director of component manufacturer Texas Instruments, believes that semiconductors are a commodity product which can only justify their development costs by mass marketing, and he advises against computer manufacturers trying to do it all themselves. "We believe you have to be a major investor in the semiconductor market to have the right costs," he says. For example, a new manufacturing plant in Italy for advanced semiconductors is costing Texas Instruments $1.2 billion to build. It will take high volume production to recoup that kind of investment.