Ingrid Van Den Hoogen

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Looking around the Internet during the past two years, Sun Microsystems noticed a trend toward participatory computing-activities such as blogging and social networks-and realized not only that people had an urge to connect and share information but that Sun was well-positioned to facilitate such activities.

Nearly a decade ago the company, which creates server software, helped pioneer its Java language to the public and invited programmers outside the company to help improve it.

So this year, Sun returned to those community roots to relaunch its brand, said VP-Brand Experience & Community Marketing Ingrid Van Den Hoogen.

In June it made the proprietary code for its Solaris 10 server software open to the public to examine the raw code for flaws, offer ideas for new features and develop new applications for it.

Van Den Hoogen said the idea came from Sun employees, who felt the company's core strength was its history of sharing its software "for the greater good."

Rather than unveil the plan on a conference stage, the company stuck with the community theme and launched an Internet campaign through RSS feeds, blogs and its Web site.

Sun also developed teaser ads online and in traditional media, and on launch day 1,000 Sun engineers were posted at the Open Solaris site blog to explain why the open project was important to them and the developer community.

Van Den Hoogen said the project attracted thousands of participants, including academics around the world, customers who work with the product daily and employees of competitors, who have fixed bugs in the software and shared ideas for new features.

The theme of sharing continues in the redesign of the company's main Web site and product packaging, which feature curvy "S" elements and slogans such as "Many hands make code work."

"It's all about the network," Van Den Hoogen said. "More people participating on the network has a great impact on our product, and it creates more opportunity for us."

Following its rebranding campaign this year, Sun also introduced a new campaign to turn the tired image of servers as boring boxes on its head.

Sexy print ads for the Sun Fire X4100 server, which debuted in September, were created by San Francisco shop Butler, Shine, Stern & Partners, and show servers in provocative form mirroring playmate centerfolds. One ad features a server in a candlelit room "reclining" on a fur carpet; another describes the server's likes: "I love naughty ROI talk, multiple platforms and dimly lit data centers."

Sun also recently announced a partnership with Google to feature the Google taskbar on the downloads page of its site. Google has long been involved in Sun's Java development project, and the company will now also become involved in its initiative, an open-source suite that competes with Microsoft Windows.

Van Den Hoogen joined Sun in 1987 in the sales department. Prior to joining Sun, she held software development positions at Megatek, United Technologies and GTE Government Systems.

-Kim Zetter

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