The Open-Sourcing of Cobalt

On December 24, Sun Microsystems released the source code for the software that runs its RaQ Web and e-mail server. Why not? Sun won’t be using it any more. The RaQ was a Linux box, and the last of the Cobalt line that Sun bought in 2000. Earlier last year, it opened the source code for the Cobalt Qube server.

Sun gave the end-of-life alert to Cobalt users in Q3 2003. The last order date for its last Cobalt product was November 20. The Mountain View, Calif.-based company hoped that Cobalt would bolster its Linux offerings while rounding out the product line with lower-priced servers.

Instead, Sun will look to its alliance with low-cost chipmaker AMD to provide competitive x86-based servers in its Sun Fire line.

While the move may help Sun build on its growing momentum of good will in the open source community, said Jupiter Research analyst Joe Wilcox, it’s also a great way to lessen its own responsibility to take care of existing customers. (Jupiter Research and are both owned by Jupitermedia.)

“Sun definitely has worked with the open source community, with one of the most visible examples being StarOffice/OpenOffice,” Wilcox said, releasing the code also could be seen as taking advantage of the situation. “It would create stronger good will if Sun was continuing to sell the product, and also did something open source with it.”

The downside, Wilcox said, is that the move could backfire on Sun. “It could be perceived as Sun shrugging its responsibility to customers and passing that on to the open source community.”

Many customers haven’t waited around to find out.

“Sun had a really good niche product that fit a lot of us very well,” said Dave Reid, president of Global Internet Associates, a Grande Prairie, Alberta Web design and hosting company. Global Internet Associates had used the RaQ line even before Sun bought it, but switched to FreeBSD open-source server software when Sun stopped releasing security updates in the spring of 2003.

“We had too many close calls with people breaking into the server,” Reid said. “Like a lot of companies, we’re more interested in putting out product for our customers. When Sun made it clear they weren’t going to continue that line of products, we had to move on.”

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