Black Hole Sun

Many years ago, I recall talking with some of my Mac-nerd friends about how strange it was, after Apple’s near-death experiences of the late 1990s, to be living in a world where it’s just assumed that any tech luminary will mostly likely use a Mac. A year or two later, Tim O’Reilly gave a name to this prognostication technique: watching the “alpha geeks.”

This trend of Mac adoption among alpha geeks was a sign of good things to come for Apple, and generally a bad sign for its competitors. Today, James Gosling’s departure from the remains of Sun brought to mind a similar trend—one that’s not so good for Apple.

These days, when a high-profile technical professional leaves his position at the company where he’s done his most important work, everyone’s first guess as to where he’ll end up is…well, do I really have to name the place? The point is, it’s not Apple.

(This mostly applies to programmers and other engineers. People on the more creative side of the technology world are much harder to predict. But then, who can truly fathom the mind of an artist?)

There are many trend lines that contribute to a company’s overall trajectory, and nearly all of Apple’s are still pointing in the right direction. But the emergence of Google as a huge gravitational sink for engineering talent in the past five years has definitely put a kink in at least one those graphs.