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Sun Microsystems Software

Sun Opens Cobalt Code 144

Bush Kanaka writes "It looks like Sun has released the user interface and back-end custom code for the Cobalt Raq550 under a BSD-like licence. The BIOS code is also, apparently, now open source and is being maintained by Sun engineer Duncan Laurie in his own time. This has to be good news for all those Cobalt devotees who were annoyed when Sun killed off Cobalt last month, but is anybody going to actually pick up the software and start making their own Cobalt clones?"
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Sun Opens Cobalt Code

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  • Previous article (Score:4, Informative)

    by vasqzr ( 619165 ) <> on Friday January 02, 2004 @10:53AM (#7859828)
    Previous article [] about Sun taking the Cobalts off the market.
  • by tcopeland ( 32225 ) * <{tom} {at} {}> on Friday January 02, 2004 @10:53AM (#7859829) Homepage
    ...not too bad, some duplicates found [] by CPD [].
  • by orangesquid ( 79734 ) <> on Friday January 02, 2004 @10:55AM (#7859843) Homepage Journal
    Was I the only one who accidentally read, "Sun opens Cobol Code," and thought, "Egads, some things just need to stay closed-source" ?
  • This is good news. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sheetrock ( 152993 ) on Friday January 02, 2004 @10:56AM (#7859850) Homepage Journal
    If you look around, you might be able to find a business that's upgrading its rackmount systems. Given the timing of these things being unleashed on the secondhand market, this should be quite a boon to those of us that manage to snap them up.

    I've got a three-system (used) computer rack that cost in total around $350. It helps to know somebody in the computer department of a large business when it comes time for them to unload their stock, especially when the alternative is for them to pay to dump the stuff.

  • by craqboy ( 588418 ) on Friday January 02, 2004 @10:58AM (#7859864)
    I really wish the cobalt stuff would have lasted. The interface is great and I was able to learn a lot of linux from using the interface and wondering how it worked out.

    The hardware on the other hand was really shitty and ended failing no matter what version cobalt raq/qube you had. I have a cobalt raq that doesn't work and also a cobalt qube 3 that has some misc. hardware issue. I hope someone can work the source and make a good UI for a generic platform.

    • The interface is nice, but only until you get up over 1000 accounts in a domain, then it dies. When I was working for a small Cable TV co we started off with cobalts for web and e-mail hosting, but the one that hosted the main domain had to be moved to webmin because the cobalt gui couldn't handle it.
    • I always figure the Cobalt stuff was just standard x86 stuff. Anybody know what the difference was?
  • Symantec (Score:5, Informative)

    by silconous ( 636675 ) on Friday January 02, 2004 @11:01AM (#7859898) Journal
    Symantec will still develop it, all the Gateway Security firewalls and Raptor firewalls were built on cobalts
    • Re:Symantec (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Actually only the VelociRaptors were ever built on the Cobalts and not the main Raptor (now Symantec Enterprise Firewall) line. The V-Raps are being replaced with a new appliance in the very near future. I haven't had time to poke around on them yet but there is no guarantee that they will keep up the Cobalt code.
  • Cobalt Users Group (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 02, 2004 @11:04AM (#7859914) []

    Featuring Blue Quartz
  • Already? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by peterdaly ( 123554 ) <petedaly@ix.n e t c o m . c om> on Friday January 02, 2004 @11:05AM (#7859928)
    Sun has not owned Cobalt for a very long time IIRC. Do they still have anything substantial they got out of the purchase, or was the whole this money down the drain at this point?

    Did they need to purchase Cobalt to "get their heads around" Linux? Did they need Cobalt to figure out how to make a low end Intel server? Maybe Sun has less between their ears than I gave them credit for, but I don't believe either is the case.

    Seems like a bad business decision to purchase them to me, but maybe I'm missing something.
    • Re:Already? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by CommandNotFound ( 571326 ) on Friday January 02, 2004 @11:29AM (#7860131)
      I imagine the purchase was fraught with internal struggles at Sun: those who wanted to purchase Cobalt to add to their low-end server line, and those who wanted to purchase Cobalt and kill it to remove a potentially dangerous competitor in the mid-range market, which is where Cobalt would probably have taken their product line next.

      The Cobalt line essentially stagnated as soon as Sun purchased it. While they don't seem as innovative today, remember that 7-8 years ago this was really cool stuff. I've had great experiences with these machines. The machine owners can easily manage virtual hosts without my help, and I can always SSH in to do heavy lifting. I had hoped that Cobalt would push the appliance concept into the mainstream, but for whatever reasons the concept just never caught on. I've seen many small/medium businesses struggle with IIS/Exchange or smail/sendmail and waste thousands of dollars and many hours of work, when a $2000 cobalt would have been up and running in minutes and ready to add users. They aren't the best solution for every problem, but I've seen many places where it would have been a perfect fit. That's they way the industry works sometimes.
    • > Do they still have anything substantial they got out of the purchase, or was the whole this money down the drain at this point?

      They got to played wrecking ball on a successful company... Vroom vroom!

    • Re:Already? (Score:3, Informative)

      by NicolaiBSD ( 460297 )
      They got chilisoft out of the aquisition of Cobalt. Chilisoft have coded an ASP engine for UNIX which Sun now sell as Sun Java System Active Server Pages 4.0. []
      • That's some crazy technology there. I didn't realize they had taken it so far. I did not know Chillisoft was related to Cobalt. Do you have any links from the period that I can read up on?
    • This was just Sun being Sun. They utilized the standard technique of all monopolies. Buy out the low cost competitors and trash them. Why do I say monopoly? Because that's what they are. Those that lump Sun, Oracle, and MS together in the same business are wrong. Each camp has a monopoly within its own religion and effects the others very little. The people that belong to these various camps are not likely to convert to another. No product gets everything right for everybody. It takes at least this
      • This was just Sun being Sun. They utilized the standard technique of all monopolies. Buy out the low cost competitors and trash them.

        No, Sun really *is* different, and far more open than any other mainline computer company (hardware or software)out there. In fact, not other company even approaches thier openness and thier commitment to it in terms of really putting their money where their mouth is. (Sure they have some proprietary hardware and software - That's no sin, and it often provides tremendous
        • There is a very little true relationship between openness and monopolism other than many monopolies choose not to be open. Some monopolies, like Sun, choose to be open and to maintain their monopoly amongst their chosen target group in other ways such as just via the use of their size or via the use of the religions they create and further for their own gain. Put another way, Sun's openness is simply a part of the character that defines the community that they are a monopoly within. A company is a monopo
          • A company is a monopoly when it has a particular community that is locked into their religion enough to allow them to utilize monopolistic practices without losing the community. Sun definitely has that community and has definitely utilized monopolistic practices such as buying out those that are competing for their particular community.

            Sorry, but the facts show you're wrong on two points here:

            1) Sun is definitely NOT a monopoly, even by your own criteria: There is absolutely nothing preventing 99% of
  • Links would be nice. (Score:5, Informative)

    by kinema ( 630983 ) on Friday January 02, 2004 @11:13AM (#7859985)
    The Cobalt software can be found at: [] and the ROM can be found at SourceForge [].
  • by tomblackwell ( 6196 ) on Friday January 02, 2004 @11:18AM (#7860025) Homepage
    This gesture is far more useful to those who are "stuck" with an end-of-lined server. If there are flaws with the software (and with Raqs, there are always a few that creep out over time), the admins can do the fixes themselves.

    I really doubt that anyone is going to use the Raq software to start a new project when there are cheap, well-exercised alternatives on the market.
    • This gesture is far more useful to those who are "stuck" with an end-of-lined server.

      This could serve as a really nice precedent, actually. A ton of things end up dying out because the manufacturer never makes them, but still owns the rights to it. If they're not going to use it, giving it away free does them no harm, and is really beneficial to those who use it.

      I'd really like to see other places do the same. If you're never going to make a dime off it again, consider making it public domain.
    • I don't know about that. These type [] of products [] still seem to be in demand.

      With Sun Open Sourcing the things that make this type of product easy to use, couldn't anyone just build one out of a cheap or old Debian/Gentoo-based PC?

      = 9J =

      • there are cheap, well-exercised alternatives on the market.

        If you want to use code to do a server appliance, you'd get further, faster using something like Webmin.
        • If you want to use code to do a server appliance, you'd get further, faster using something like Webmin.

          Sorry, but you wouldn't. Obviously, you've never actually looked a the degree of difficulty of creating a real server appliance distro. It's a LOT of work, and webmin doesn't even begin to scratch the surface of what's required there.

          For confirmation, not only can you now check out Cobalt's code (I'm excited Sun has decided to open up the code of an EOL'ed product line - this shows their commitment
  • Thus inviting disaster to my oh-so-dainty home DSL line, I nevertheless boldly post a link to a set of humorous uses for a dead Cobalt Cube. These pictures were done by a former coworker of mine, Scott Lundberg (Hi Scott!) about four years ago. []

    In a related rant, to heck with the upper level source code. I want them to release the schematics, BIOS, and boot code for the ARM cube! Having a turnkey ARM system like that would be an incredible boon to the embedded Linux world. Open Source doesn't necessarily have to mean just source code, IMO.
  • Cobalt Replacement (Score:5, Interesting)

    by iStitz ( 737297 ) on Friday January 02, 2004 @11:22AM (#7860067)
    Has anyone made an "Internet Appliance" to replace the Cobalt RAQ line? Although the RAQ line was not perfect, it's ease of use was unmatched.
    • by axjms ( 167179 )
      I posted a similar request the other day when we were discussing how Sun EOL'd the last of the Cobalt products. No one responded but I did find this alternative on my own. It looks promising but I have no direct experience with them yet.

      Network Integration []

    • i had emailed apple regarding the cobalt products when osx was in version one, stating that this was the perfect apple like device. hell, the founders came from apple. then they come out with that damn cube. duh! i currently use plesk but, it just is way to complicated for somebody with actual work to do. when i had a t1 and the raq as well as nasraq, my maintenance was really simple. this type of product coupled with a good groupware solution for small business, and perhaps backup solutions would be quite
    • Has anyone made an "Internet Appliance" to replace the Cobalt RAQ line? Although the RAQ line was not perfect, it's ease of use was unmatched.

      There are lots of us using the Red Hat based e-smith distro for this. As mentioned in another post, it's currently being transitioned from Mitel back to full ownership by the developer community.

      Installing and configuring e-smith on regular x86 hardware is about as easy as it gets - Seriously, anyone can use e-smith to install and configure a complete, working, se
      • Sorry, forgot to include the links to e-smith: [] The original Mitel developer site, which is moving to: [] the community development site, and a repository for extensions and modifications for the server, as well as docs, howtos, and the new home for the user discussion forums.

        Things are a bit rough at right now, but they only found out Mitel was looking to hand the distro over a few weeks ago, so things are still (messily) in transition. It should be getting much smooth
  • by Aliencow ( 653119 )
    That's pretty cool, I guess we'll see a slew of userfriendly server distros based around that... And dedicated server companies installing them on cheap hardware instead of the non-free alternatives!
    Gotta admit that it's pretty nice for a company to open-source what they will not use for profit anymore..
  • by carndearg ( 696084 ) on Friday January 02, 2004 @11:26AM (#7860102) Homepage Journal
    This can only be a good thing IMHO.

    First, those of us who rely on Cobalt appliances will stand a better chance of finding useful updates and peer support as no doubt from the existing Cobalt users communities a thriving community will appear around this project. I have spoken in the past [] about Sun's lacklustre approach to providing software updates for these boxes so from there any progress can only be an improvement.

    Second, the Cobalt www based admin software is not that bad. In fact, I'd go as far as to say it's quite good. It allows people who would normally have no idea to administer a www connected server appliance and having at times seen some of the competing commercial offerings I'd say it does that job well and I'll certainly spend some time poking around inside it. To have this project in the public domain as open source can only be of benefit to the open source world as a whole.

    I await with interest further developments upon this piece of software.

  • by emil ( 695 ) on Friday January 02, 2004 @11:32AM (#7860160)

    Aside from Genome integration, Solaris userland has been static for many, many years (far too long IMHO - Sun relies upon far too much).

    Why would the Cobalt code not be useful as part of the base install?

    Actually, what I'd like to see is Sun pick the best GNU distribution and wrap the Solaris kernel and libc around it. Sun releasing GNU/Solaris would prove that there is life in the old girl yet.

    • Aside from Genome integration, Solaris userland has been static for many, many years (far too long IMHO - Sun relies upon far too much).

      Some people like Solaris because of this. Migration is easier when few things change. Others also think that it cost Sun a big part of the workstation market. Some people's good choices are other people's bad choices.I personally am glad it doesn't move too much, but I can see why you're not.

      Actually, what I'd like to see is Sun pick the best GNU dist
      • Some people like Solaris because of this. Migration is easier when few things change... I disagree. I don't want them to do this because you can do it yourself - that's man/hour's that would be better spent on *real* solaris dev :-)

        You might want to rethink your position for a few reasons:

        • I've never used partitions on an e10k or other machines that support it (I'm really an HP-UX admin; my Solaris experience is [mostly] confined to x86), but if a specific partition could run a Solaris kernel with a R
  • sure the code may be open now, ( which is nice ) but how would you get a hold of cobalt hardware?

    Last I heard it was a custom Mips setup.. Not exactly a 'commodity' item...

    Seems more like a PR move then something practical...

    ( and no, ive NOT looked at the code yet. so my statement may be off )
    • Nope is has been x86 since RaQ3. But that does not really matter. They did not release the OS which has always been open but rather the UI which was their nitch.
    • I know at least one of their servers (RAQ XTR) is x86 based. Besides, most of the frontend code appears to be scripting code or otherwise cpu-independent, so a recompile should solve that problem. Hopefully this will result in code for generic Linux/BSD machines.

      A big wish of mine is for the Cobalt web/mail admin code to find its way as a plugin for the very excellent Webmin [] project. Webmin has a web frontend like Cobalt which covers lots of other functionality, but generally it tends to be thin wrapp
    • Hey, I've got an old RaQ2 MIPS that I've been looking for updates or more importnatly I new kernel but finding LINUX MIPS for the RaQ2 is next to impossible.

      I agree with most. These boxes were unbeatable back in the day. Truly plug and play and an unbelievably straight-forward user interface. Many companies today could learn from Cobalt's interface approach.
      • Hey, I've got an old RaQ2 MIPS that I've been looking for updates or more importnatly I new kernel but finding LINUX MIPS for the RaQ2 is next to impossible.

        I've found that the Cobalt port of NetBSD [] works quite nicely. Unlike trying to run Linux on your RaQ2, you can actually get a current version of NetBSD for it (and not an unofficial and flakey patch either!).

    • MIPS was chosen for the Qube 2 and RaQ 2 because a lot of exploits on Linux/2.0.34 were existed at the time, while ones for MIPS were rare.

      Cobalt didn't want to be compared to normal PC's either.
  • by PierceLabs ( 549351 ) on Friday January 02, 2004 @11:42AM (#7860246)
    They should open their eyes and realize how valuable the cobalt line was to the market it served and how that market is coming right back again in the form of consumer level servers. Consumers are gathering large amounts of content (mp3s, movies, photo albums, etc) and they are starting to want to host this content - THEMSELVES! This is a nice market for low cost, quiet, easy to manage servers. The average consumer doesn't want to administer Linux, the want to administer something along the lines of a Cobalt server (or easier).

    Sun once again pisses away an opportunity because they can't see the forest for the trees.
    • The average consumer doesn't want to administer Linux, the want to administer something along the lines of a Cobalt server (or easier).

      Such a server is just as valuable with source code available. The target market you described is not going to download the source and build their own from an ITX case. In fact, if it does what I need for a reasonable price with open source, I'm not going to either. I've got too many projects going already.

      The business problem with opening the source is that a competit

      • but sun discontinued the Cube, just when they could just alter it a little to cut costs, and offer it as a simple network server for regular consumers ... sun's thinking too much about the corporate world. I'd like to see how apple would handle something like this... probably turn it into a fashion item
        • They have yet to really sell to the consumer. Each and every piece that they do is either dedicated to selling more server iron, engineering workstations, or screwing the competition (If you don't think StarOffice/OpenOffice isn't scorched earth intended for Microsoft, you probably ought to look at it closer.).
          • Solution? Spin the company back off! If its going to die, at least let it die fighting for marketshare - not because you don't understand the space. The way I see it as an investor is that Sun just threw away at least 2 billion dollars to acquire a company and brand, only to get absolutely nothing out of it. Heads should roll for stuff like that.
  • by bazik ( 672335 )

    I wonder how long it will take SCO to find something of their IP in the Cobalt code, now that its open source :)
  • I've recently started thinking about how our local Free-Net [] (which provides Web hosting to nonprofits, among other things) could set up a control panel for domains we host. Is poking through the Cobalt code for stuff to steal a good idea, or are there already better Free control panel programs available?
    • Webmin is good for server administration (it's what I use when I don't feel like ssh), and it has an offshoot, Usermin, for users to manage their accounts and such. There's also Virtualmin, another offshoot (that's ransomware, though), that gives more of what you might be looking for, such as the ability for users to manage their VirtualHost site in Apache, a MySQL table, etc. I never really used any of the RaQ/Cobalt code, though, so I couldn't begin to guess how it compares.

      The seeminly-ubiquitous web p
      • I used webmin/usermin for a while, however, there was a point in time where I was innodated with security-type problems with it.

        I still provide usermin/webmin to the people who need to tweak server-specific settings on my server, however, I require that they use something like STunnel to get to the server. Less chance of something attacking webmin from the wild, and a little more accountabliity.

        One thing that I didn't like about webmin is that it didn't get into the specifics when you installed new softw
    • Nope. Lots of stuff that is good, but this is really hard to beat.
    • I am not sure if you have checked out Webmin [] before, but it is a great control panel and can be made to have more granular and domain specific controls for users. With a tiny bit of effort in setting up each user as opposed to the RAQ interface, Webmin is a great solution. Personally there were so many little things that irritated me with the RAQ interface that the nice features could not make up for...but this is only opinion.
  • What does this require hardware-wise? Is it specifically designed for the hardware they ran it on? Can I download the code and have a 'Cobalt' 486 server? And is it distro-dependent?

    Sorry if these are answered somewhere, but I can't find them, and I'd like to know if it's worthwhile for me to download a 12 MB file at 4.8 KB/sec, or if it won't work on anything here. :)
  • forgive my "newbiness" but does this mean that one can now take the complete cobalt software and now apply it to one's own hardware? Is it really as simply as that?
  • I use to work at a small company (about 6 full staff) which used an old Qube 2 box for distributing email around the office. Although restrictve and sometimes basic customisation required diving into the horrible world of 70's style telnet-based command line editing. Despite this, I thought the web-based administration system used was amazing.

    No mucking about, simply point web-browser at the Qube, type in user-name and password and then a few simple web-pages allowed common adiministration tasks to be perf
  • by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> on Friday January 02, 2004 @12:38PM (#7860681) Homepage Journal
    Most or all of Cobalt's web functionality (Sausalito?) has been superseded by freely available management packages. Even the RaQ 550 is outdated now. What I want to see is the cobalt-specific stuff in the kernel for support of the cobalt LCD make it into the mainline kernel. The source they opened provides the means to talk to the LCD. This also includes the rest of the front panel lights and the buttons. Other than that, a RaQ 3 (which is what I have) is just a ALI-chipset PC with no video, something Linux can handle just fine.

    Also of course, the cobalt rom is immensely useful, since that's how you load your kernel which loads your kernel :) It might be best to just put your actual kernel into the flash, though I've heard of people having had cobalts so long the flash has gone bad or something, and the system dies permanently when they try to update the rom.

  • I see a bios image, I see source code.

    I guess you can emulate the bios somehow because it won't be flashable in any motherboards, that doesn't take monkey brain to figure out, but what about the rest for non-linux users?
  • It's doesn't matter (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Fjord ( 99230 ) on Friday January 02, 2004 @01:11PM (#7860950) Homepage Journal
    is anyody going to actually pick up the software and start making their own Cobalt clones

    It doesn't matter. If nobody does, then Sun was justified in killing it off. If people do, then Sun should be congradulated on doing the right thing.

    This makes me feel a lot better about using Sun technologies. I know they have a tight control on Java now in order to make sure it does fly out of control as some people beleive happened to C++. This makes me feel that if Java does become legacy and unsupported, that the systems I'm building now with have another avenue of support.
  • New exploits? (Score:3, Informative)

    by MoogMan ( 442253 ) on Friday January 02, 2004 @03:18PM (#7861995)
    "is anybody going to actually pick up the software and start making their own Cobalt clones?"

    Im not sure, but im sure that someone will be hunting through the sauce, searching for exploitable code...
  • by ducomputergeek ( 595742 ) on Friday January 02, 2004 @03:52PM (#7862308)
    For hosting small or static sites, the Cobalts were my first choice because of their ease of use. There was no investment in Cpanel, it was built in. When you needed to update, a couple quick clicks in the admin panel and it downloaded the latest patches and installed them.

    I know a number of small local ISP's that used them for the same reason and many are dumping them dirt cheap and we are purchasing what we can afford, keeping some for parts, and coloing others, and using some for in house application development.

    At least when Sun's products at EOL they release the code, unlike some other companies who's idea it is, sorry WIn..I mean Product X is now no longer supported: please spend more money to upgrade now!

  • I've been working with the guys over at to get the damn thing working on Debian.

    My biggest problem to date is that the RaQ550 isn't gcc-3.2/3.2 aware. It also ain't updated for newer PHP versions, while the Qube3 release is.

    So far we've got the Cobalt Configuration Engine (cce backend) and minor parts of the web interface working.

Consider the postage stamp: its usefulness consists in the ability to stick to one thing till it gets there. -- Josh Billings