Can open-sourcing alone make a product more popular? In the case of Sun Microsystems discontinued Cobalt line of Linux Web hosting appliances, the answer seems to be yes.
According to Netcraft Ltd., an Internet services company based in Bath, England, the Cobalt lines have actually gained new users since Sun Microsystems Inc. first opened its Cobalt Qube code, now maintained by the Cobalt Users Group community as Blue Quartz.
Sun opened its ROM source code for the RaQ 550 in December 2003.
What makes the news of an uptick especially surprising is that Sun discontinued the last of its Cobalt line, the RaQ 550 server, on Feb. 19. The company wrote off its Cobalt investment as a bad deal in January 2003, when it took a $1.6 billion charge to its earnings.
Despite what should have been the kiss of death, Netcraft reported that "more than 918,000 sites are currently running Cobalt, up more than 47,000 since November. Prior to the open-source announcement, the number of sites running Cobalt had been declining from a peak of 3.1 million hostnames in August 2002."
According to Netcraft, some hosting providers such as Netherlands-based VIA NET.WORKS Inc. are kicking up their use of the once-popular Cobalt appliance servers.
Netcraft speculates that Cobalts revival has come about because with the open-sourcing of both the firmware and the software, Web hosting companies can built their own Cobalt clones.
In Japan, at least three companies, Classcat Inc., Yasukawa Information Systems Corp. and Turbolinux Inc., are porting the Cobalt brand of Linux to white boxes.
At least in this case, its clear that with open source, a vendor doesnt ensure a products death when it closes down a product line.