as an ex employee
When i first started at Sun, i was shocked by the lack of technical detail available to support staff. Technical documents were impossible to obtain and the ones that did exist were full of mistakes. Partner service companies were forced into throwing spares at machines to try and fix them.
Add to that the horrendous problems with the first versions of System V. Sparc Centres were a pain to repair,,,,often the fault had to be guessed at,,,,storage arrays were woeful to say the least. And sun spent millions trying to buy a storage business and failed every time.
Sun used off the shelf parts as you rightly pointed out, thrown together to make them cheap and a pain in the ass to fix.
The "back room" boys jealously guarded the IP, in case the bad news leaked to customers and when you add the "jobs for the boys" culture that was prevalent in many departments, you had a disaster waiting to happen.
But thats only part of the story because Sun could never decide whether it was a software company or a hardware company or both and ended up giving away the software which was the best bit of the business.
IBM knew what they were doing with Java and it became almost impossible for Sun to sell any of their development tools.
And who remembers N1 ? What a pile that was.
So there you have it, Sun spent too long at the party getting pissed on cheap wine and bragging about how MS was the Heroin dealer of the world.
Mcnealy was a great visionary but he created a monster that ran out of control.