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Culture

Sun may set for top exec

Scott McNealy has bid farewell to several top execs in the past few months and looks prepared to say goodbye to one more: Chief Technology Officer Greg Papadopoulos.

A heated argument pierced the closed doors of my study the other day, jerking me out of my mid-afternoon reverie and nearly causing me to spill a rare, half-empty bottle of Petrone Tequila perched on my stomach.

I was just about to lash into Vermel, my 12-year-old son and the apparent cause of the agitation, when I noticed he was arguing with himself.

"Well who else am I supposed to talk to?" he asked forlornly in his defense. "All my friends have left town."

Dumbstruck, I had to acknowledge it was true. The tech downturn had reduced our once-vibrant playgroup to one lonely straggler and his imaginary friend. I almost wept, until I remembered the sage advice of my Grandma DuBaud: Count your blessings, because there's always someone worse off than you.

"Buck up," I mustered. "You're no Scott McNealy."

Things have been looking lonely at the top for the CEO of Sun Microsystems, who last week bid farewell to company President Ed Zander, in addition to at least four other top execs in the past few months.

Now a Skinsider tells me that Sun's chief technology officer, Greg Papadopoulos, appears to be on his way out. Papadopoulos is planning to go "part time" and take a position at his alma mater, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, our Skinformant said. Opinions vary on whether it would be a slow way to withdraw altogether or a genuine part-time position.

A Sun representative declined to comment on the rumor. The company has said that it's just going through a yearly organizational housecleaning in the executive ranks--but if that's true, it's a cleaning that la belle Martha Stewart would be proud of. Some Sun watchers speculate that McNealy is putting the screws to his executive team, which has led the company into one of its most tenuous market positions in recent history.

Papadopoulos has been one of the chief spokesmen for the company's vision of a world where every little device imaginable is connected to a network--and potentially using Sun software, to boot.

But Sun already has plenty of visionaries on the payroll, and Papadopoulos hasn't had a high profile, similar to Nathan Myrhvold's at Microsoft, one analyst told me.

"Scott McNealy--and to a lesser degree Ed Zander--were clearly the outward-facing stars of the company," Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff said. "Greg Papadopoulos has never struck me as the kind of effervescent sort of self-promoting personality...that often become these outwardly visible stars."

Plain talk
Last week I stopped by the Clift Hotel's impeccable Spanish Suite, visiting a little soiree for Forbes' new West Coast advertising director. It was an intimate affair, just myself and a hundred or so other journalists and advertisers, drawn by the promise of Forbes editors' wit and wisdom in a discussion about their views on the 2002 economic outlook.

I had to recheck the date when I arrived, thinking they had meant 1999. The catering was straight from the days of free venture capital and telephone book-size advertising sections. Sushi, chevre on sourdough, dueling tapenades and beef satay were all served by waiters strolling along the hotel balcony. More to the point, top-shelf liquor flowed freely along with post-boom bitterness, making a volatile cocktail.

Certainly Rich Karlgaard, the publisher of the magazine that bills itself as being chock-full of "the hard-hitting journalism that you have come to expect from America's leading business magazine," didn't mince words when describing the economy after an extended happy hour.

"As of 7:30 and 30 seconds, the tech recession is officially over," Karlgaard said, followed by a pregnant pause. "I'm kidding."

The real outlook was brief, however. "It sucked, it still sucks, and it probably will suck," Karlgaard said, to gales of laughter from the crowd. He apologized for his ineloquence to his boss, Tim Forbes, who chuckled in the corner. He then passed the microphone to a company vice president, Russ Cherami. Cherami played it safe, noting that the economy would probably recover "eventually" and that "you heard it here first."

Ballmer's new video gig
Finally, I forgave Vermel his trespassing in my private files this week when he sent me a link to a new video imagining Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer as "Domo-Kun," one of the strangest characters to emerge from the surreal world of Japanese animation.

The creators of the video looped Ballmer's manic "Developers, developers, developers," chant over footage of the brick-like character, who waves its arms, plays guitar, and dances with cheerleaders to Ballmer's words. At least as jaw-dropping as Ballmer's own "Monkeyboy" dance, the linking of the two figures seems to fit strangely well by the end of the three-minute video.

Curious about the origin of "Domo-Kun," I did a little research. What I found was as strange as Ballmer himself.

"Domo is a strange creature born from an egg," reads one site, which appears to be a translation from the original Japanese. "One day he fell into Usajii's house, the old rabbit likes TV. After that he began to love watching TV. He is gentle and strong. When he is in a bad mood, he breaks wind."

If I don't get rumors next week, I'll be in a bad mood. Send me some.