RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Scott McNealy’s reign as chief executive officer at Sun is over after 22 years, but the lightning rod for media and industry criticism will not be forgotten anytime soon.

If ever.

McNealy stepped down on Monday as Sun continued to fight dwindling market share and revenues in the wake of the bubble-bursts in 2000-1 that badly damaged the “dot com” and telephony industries.

Of course, McNealy generated a lot of the negative charge directed against him with his own bolts of criticism. His favorite target was Microsoft, led by Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer.

He called Micrsoft “the beast from Redmond” and its headquarters “the evil empire”, recalled Charles Cooper, executive editor of Cnet.

Then there was the famous “Ballmer and Butthead” line directed at Ballmer and Gates.

The Associated Press culled its archives for such McNeally gems as: “hairball” in reference to Microsoft’s operating system; “Look Out” instead of Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft’s .Net as “dot not”.

One comment McNealy made as noted by Cooper is especially relevant giving the rise of Linux and other open source software vs. McNealy and Sun’s proprietary Unix solutions: “Open source is free like a puppy is free”.

Daniel Lyons, writing in Forbes online, says Linux is the reason McNealy is no longer CEO.

“Sun’s problem is huge and it is simple: Linux. The free operating system, yoked to low-cost processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, has decimated the Unix market by offering customers a cheap alternative to pricey Unix boxes like the ones Sun makes,” Lyons said.

But Lyons was not defending McNealy. He described McNealy as “an easy guy to dislike. Many in the industry view him as an arrogant jerk, obnoxious even by the exaggerated standards of Silicon Valley, a bully who gloated when Sun was riding high and blustered when Sun hit the skids, a wise guy who mocked friends and foes alike, a combative boss who wasted time and energy tilting at the Microsoft windmill, which only managed to alienate customers.”

McNealy faced heat from the Silicon Valley press as well.

“Scott McNealy is a hard-charging Silicon Valley legend who deserves to be remembered with a towering bronze statue in some local park, but he had to go as chief executive of Sun Microsystems,” wrote Mike Langberg in the San Jose Mercury News.

The news crew at Cnet, meanwhile, have put together a great roundup about McNealy and Sun.

Cooper, the Cnet editor, perhaps captured McNealy best with one line: “In an era so dominated by cardboard cutout CEOs, I could always count on Scott McNealy to liven up the party. Then again, I’m not an investor.”