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Linux a Very Silent Player in New Cobalt Release

Sun downplays Linux offerings in the Cobalt line

January 17, 2001

The positioning of Linux within the House of Solaris seems to be one of quiet avoidance: if you ignore the operating system completely, then the mentioning of the "L" word will never happen.

Sun Microsystems and its new Cobalt division announced today the first new line of Cobalt server appliances since Sun's acquisition of Cobalt last December. Though preliminary information about the press conference hinted at the inclusion of Linux within the Sun/Cobalt server strategy, Sun executives went out of their way to de-emphasize Linux's presence on the Cobalt devices.

Much of the press event focused on the latest release of the Netra line of rack-mounted servers that Sun is unabashedly positioning head to head with the PC server market. Included in this new product line is a sub-$1000 server running Solaris, which John McFarlane, Executive Vice President of Sun's Network Service Provider Group, characterized as having "become the de facto operating system of the Internet."

Solaris was certainly a supporting player in the all-star lineup Sun presented at its San Francisco announcement, getting generous and complimentary statements from most of the Sun executives speaking there.

One executive who was conspicuously quiet about any operating system during his presentation was Steve DeWitt, former President of Cobalt Networks and now Vice President and General Manager of Server Appliances at Sun. Though Linux is a part of the operating system strategy for the Cobalt server appliance devices, no mention was made of its presence, or any operating system, in regards to the Cobalt product line.

The RaQ XTR server appliance announced by DeWitt integrates hardware, software, database, and development tools needed to develop and deploy Web applications. Created for and marketed to service providers, the RaQ XTR appliance offers increased reliability with RAID 0, 1, 5 and increased expandability with four removable hard drives and up to 2GB of memory support, according to press statements released by Sun.

Sun's stance on Linux has long been a contradictory one, and it certainly showed in the conference's question and answer session. When asked about the presence of Linux on a Sun product line after most of the Sun speakers has praised Solaris so highly as a superior OS, Sun President and Chief Operating Officer Ed Zander sternly replied, "we never said Linux is inferior."

Zander went on to emphasize that for the Cobalt product line, the user should not even care what the operating system is. It is, he stressed, the utility of the device that really mattered. Zander also pointed out some of Sun's middleware ports to Linux, such as Java and StarOffice. (StarOffice was ported to Linux prior to Sun's acquisition of Star Division in 1999.)

DeWitt did add his feelings about Cobalt's operating system at this point: "The only people who care about operating systems are developers." He went on to say that no one else has always provided developers with more development tools and platforms than Sun.

Zander repeated his confidence in the decision of the operating system running under Cobalt's hood, without mentioning it by name. "Whatever he [DeWitt] chooses, he chooses."