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Halloween Special: Cobalt, RIP?

Some of you may think I am living in the past by raising up what most think is a dead topic. With Halloween close at hand, I would like to report that I am hearing from ghosts.

In my work to drive a simplified Linux solution to the market, time and again, I am hearing "well, this reminds me of Cobalt". The medium usually pauses, and a whistful look comes over them. When they recover from this out of body experience, they deliver a eulogy that makes me wish I knew the subject. Perhaps it is time for a reincarnation?

For those of you that weren't at the wake, Cobalt was a Linux-based appliance developed in the late 90s. Praised for it's elegant simplicity, millions of these servers were sold. Sun bought Cobalt in 2000 for an estimated $2B in stock. In January of 2003, Sun took a $1.6 billion charge against earnings and put Cobalt into an end of life track (ok, they killed it).

Many have speculated that Sun did in the Cobalt products because they were cannibalizing the lower end of the Solaris line. Others link it to their ever shifting Linux strategy. The purpose of this post is not to question Sun's decision, that would be beating a dead horse (sorry, the macabre keeps creeping in).

In fact, we should give credit to Sun for releasing the source code of the two main product lines under an open source based license.

During my walk down memory lane, I was surprised to have found that there are active user groups (some even call themselves fan clubs) that are keeping the dream alive. There are patches to the 2.6 kernel that are specifically identified as Cobalt related. I have heard reports of "cubes" that have run non-stop for years.

Are there customers out there that would like to see this concept resuscitated? If we could make like Dr. Frankenstein, are there other body parts that should be swapped in? I kind of like the idea of a rather simple but menacing monster facing a brutal giant.

Happy Halloween,


Paula Hunter is the Vice President of US Marketing for Collax, Inc. Her last gig was Marketing and Business Development director at OSDL, and a while back she was the general manager of UnitedLinux.

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