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Netwinder is Back 90

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the i-still-think-those-things-rock dept.
Vic writes "The Ottawa Business Journal is reporting that a new company, Netwinder Inc., is being started to resurrect the Netwinder project. In case you don't remember, this was a small linux-based server appliance started by Corel Computer, which died when Rebel.com went under. See also the National Post article."
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Netwinder is Back

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  • "Calls to the new company were not returned yesterday."

    Not a good start for inspiring customer confidence in a product that has already taken a company down the bankruptcy path once.

    Otherwise, sounds like a really cool product.

    • "Calls to the new company were not returned yesterday."

      Not a good start for inspiring customer confidence...

      Maybe they got slashdotted...

  • whatever happened to the whistler product line? i believe that ibm was distributing them for a while. i have a couple of older cobalt servers, both mips based, and i really do like them. they are certainly powerful enough for moderate usage, and require little maintenance. sun has really dropped the ball--intentionally--in developing the line. the market is there, but the product hasn't arrived... yet.
    • by bergie (29834)

      I haven't seen any signs of Sun dropping the ball here in Finland. At least we're getting all the support we need for implementing Qubes as project servers [nemein.com] for the construction industry.

      The Qubes are really cool and capable little servers for runnign web-based project banks, especially with the RAID-enabled Qube Pro line.

      /Bergie

    • by rootlocus (82271)
      sun has really dropped the ball--intentionally--in developing the line. the market is there, but the product hasn't arrived

      What are you talking about?.. Sun/Cobalt is still releasing new products, and supporting the existing Cobalt products pretty well.. I get notices that new security patches are available every month or so.. And recently Sun hired more people to answer questions on the online cobalt support forums..

      I have nothing but good things to say about Cobalt machines.. For hosting a few low traffic sites, they are perfect, and one can pick up a Cobalt raq or qube used on eBay for only a few hundred bucks.. i have better things to do with my time than spend days configuring bind, sendmail, apache, kernel patches, php, mysql, etc etc..
      • Is Sun still releasing new Cobalt product? I hear there's a pretty good roadmap, but since the horrific XTR release, what have they done for me lately?

        It's true, Sun has a very good Security team looking out for the Cobalt product line (ex-progressive systems and Microsolved). And I've had stellar support in the past.

        But, given a little insight into the sales and marketing mechanism there, you have to wonder about the "commitment" to "Linux" Sun has.

        1.) Almost All of the Cobalt sales staff was let go. The regional Sun sales staff wants to work one or two sales of $xxx,xxx servers, not $x,xxx or less server products save in BIG volume (Iike a CDW).

        2.) Sun channel commitment is dubious at best for the Cobalt line. Would Sun rather sell a $x,xxx Netra or a $x,xxx Cobalt box? Those T1's are getting close in price to the Cobalt line that uses less than the going speed of AMD chips.

        3.) Cobalt Marketing. Since the "sales" of Cobalt boxes are now essentially "call CDW", you think they're going to go full after Win2k compaq boxes in the SMB market with Qubes? I agree with you that there's an (ahem) unexploited (ahem) market there with the opportunity to take sales away from Microsoft, but It's going to take reaching small business owners. You don't do that by not advertising and saying "call CDW" anytime someone wants to order "onsey-twosey" sales.

      • i wouldn't call this up to date really. i understand sensitive economics and such, but who is going to ditch a windows nt server for a qube? how about a really powerful qube--athlon? also, i would very much like to see active development of workgroup software, and other applications. the admin interfaces are very nice, but they need to go further to be competitive, and i do not feel that they have. 2c.
  • The problem with the Netwinder IMHO always was price. It was cool, but only "geeky" people would understand it enought to want it, sort of, which is enough.

    But, when really geeky people look at computers, they know how much it will cost to build their own bleeding edge box, why spend over $400 on something (not including a monitor) for a StrongArm DESKTOP when a Athlon 1.8GHz can be built?

    I'm not bashing it, I think it's cool hardware. I really do. But they really have to consider what other things in that price point are, and that's dominated by x86. Just look at how cheap a ThinkNIC [thinknic.com] is, and that's going to have as much geek/hacker/toy/xterminal/whatever appeal.

    • stupid ads (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Remember the stupid Rebel ads with the greasy faced teenager? Reeeeeeelly likely to appeal to 50 yr old manager, not.


      How about a sober ad in Business Week? Or Time, or WSJ or Crain's Chicago or some other mag a business manager would read? Or even the Chicago Trib. Better yet, get them to review it.


      They sold 40 million

      worth of NWs + services? I had no idea. Let's hope this company has some adult supervision.
      • Apparently the teenager isn't a total lose. After look at the De?? ads. "Dood, you're gettin' a De??". I agree that if you want to sell to a business you need good ads, and I have seen some very tasteful ones recently. IBM has been doing a good job recently with TV ads. There is the one with all of the stolen servers, or the basketball game where 'Linux' does the slam-dunk.
    • Power. The Netwinder uses a miniscule amount of power compared to the Athlon.

      Foot print: The Netwinder takes up 1/4 the space of the smallest 1800 XP system

      Already Built: Don't need a linux geek to set it up for you. Just use their basic web administration, and you don't even have to care that it is running linux.

      I could list more, but these are the key points. I have played with one, and I wish I had one (even though it would replace my much more powerful 233MHz PII firewall, I just like the machine and how little power it drops/how small it is).
      • I have played with one, and I wish I had one (even though it would replace my much more powerful 233MHz PII firewall,

        I'm not sure about "much more powerful" - my Netwinder and my K6-233 desktop had comparable CPU power, based on keyrates in the distributed.net RC5 cracking client. The only place that the Netwinder really falls down is in floating-point math, which has to be emulated in software. So don't plan on making a Netwinder-based 3D render-farm.

        (p.s. it does play MP3s quite nicely, with an appropriately-written player).

        Small size and low power are very nice features. If only they'd been able to make it "low noise" and "low cost" as well...
      • Bah. You like low power? Cheap? Quiet?

        Check out my budget server! Cost: $0

        http://medmeta.dyndns.org/silent_server.html [dyndns.org]

        For less than industrial-strength work, don't neglect the simplicity and incredibly low cost of these old boxes. This thing is a workhorse, made out of free (old) parts.

        The best part? I can sleep with my head a few feet from this thing and never hear it. Period. And with a hard drive, you still get niceties like ftp service and email.

    • The mistake is that it's not a desktop, there isn't a compelling reason to put one on the desktop.. It's a gateway/firewall. The hardware was designed for it.
      • The mistake is that it's not a desktop

        There were 2. Desktop, and server versions.

        And, x86 would be soo much cheaper, with better preformace, for both. Same points apply to the server versions.

        If you want a gateway/firewall, you could use something like the ThinkNIC and it would actually be safer (boot only off CD) and log to any other system (for security).

        I don't know about you, but the hundreds of dollars in price diffrence does not justify the only 2 advantages I know of the NetWinder (low power requirement, less space). It would take a long time to make up the diffrence in power (per unit, remember, having 100's of them saves 100x more power, but cost 100x more also!). And, if I recall correctly, they were 2 per 1U rack, _NOT_ 4 as I saw someone earlier post.

  • by Mister Snee (549894) on Wednesday February 27, 2002 @01:26PM (#3078393)
    Yeah, I once did random network administration junk for a small company that sold Nortel stuff. Our VP was a fat moron with a respiratory problem who used to print off every spam e-mail he got and make me "look into it and see if it offers any benefits to us". I used to just throw these things in the trash but a few weeks before they actually hired me someone talked him into buying a wretched Netwinder. Not only that, but he decided to try to distribute them. Damned if he had any idea what they were or what they did but that little brochure just had so many darn Internetty words on it!

    The web-based interface was nice, frankly, but the modified Redhat distro it comes loaded with is ridiculously sparse, and the omission of certain little things like, say, GCC makes adding any functionality a real pain in the ass. Unless, of course, you can find all the binaries you need for its StrongARM architecture. Not that they encourage you to expand it anyway, but as far as I'm concerned that slashes its hack value in half.

    At any rate, most of the functionality it promises is obscurely implemented (if at all) and I never did get most of it working (like the much-touted "VPN capability" which the thing has literally zero pre-loaded facilities for).

    Maybe I'm just biased by miserable experiences like the time the fat idiot decided his accountant's office, a tiny LAN done with coax on which three of the desktops had a modem sharing a single line so that one person could use the internet at a time, could use a Netwinder and offered a "free trial". He had me make a list of the benefits it would offer the guy, and all I could really come up with was that I could get it to gateway all of them onto the Internet at the same time. That became the "selling point" and the privilege fell to me of going to the site, completely reconfiguring the entire office to access the Internet via a gateway (which involved actually installing TCP/IP on several of the Windows 95 machines, a task which resulted in one of the machines being completely stripped of functionality when someone failed to mention that it was running a slightly different version of Windows 95 than the one on the CD I had been given to do the protocol installations) and then setting up the Netwinder's ridiculous dial-on-demand "feature". Since they used the same phone line for Internet and fax, and since the Netwinder would dial out every time any program on any computer tried to do anything with an outside address, ever, it was a nightmare. Oh, and they thought they had to turn it off every night. It doesn't have an "off" switch, so they just unplugged it.

    Also, rebel.com's tech support was godawful and frequently encouraged decisions which would cripple either our internet access or the netwinder itself.

    I haven't worked there for six months and I'm still getting an e-mail every time the IP changes (a script I put on to help me track the dynamic IP from home) and they STILL haven't changed any of the passwords, including root. They probably don't even remember the beastly little thing is still humming away in their MDF.

    The Netwinder is an underfeatured, overreviewed device which encourages incompetent administration and ruins people's lives. Trust me.
    • by AT (21754) on Wednesday February 27, 2002 @01:49PM (#3078551)
      The web-based interface was nice, frankly, but the modified Redhat distro it comes loaded with is ridiculously sparse, and the omission of certain little things like, say, GCC makes adding any functionality a real pain in the ass. Unless, of course, you can find all the binaries you need for its StrongARM architecture.

      Actually, they sold these with two software configurations, a dev box and an office server box. The office system had only enough to run all the Netwinder services plus the web administration app. The dev system had all that, plus all the development packages you'd get with Redhat -- it was basically a StrongARM port of Redhat 6.2 plus web based administration.

      You could download the dev rpms from netwinder.org and upgrade the office server into a dev box. Additionally, they provided complete install images for reinstalling from scratch, and you could change the office server into a dev box by downloading the dev image and reinstalling.
    • I've been working on a system that does alot of what the netwinder was supposed to do.

      MY system however is much better! (shameless plug)

      It's runs debian for a start, so expanding it's capabilities is as easy as "apt-get install". It runs on x86 hardware because x86 is soooo damn cheap and powerfull. so you can always build your own or upgrade or whatever. We plan on making a low-power version at some point (strongARM or whatever) to take advantage of that niche.

      My VPN system works. It's using FreeS/WAN and RSA keys, no certificates at the moment, but hey! it's more secure this way anyway.(transfer your public keys OutOfBand on a floppy disk)

      It also has cool features like the ability to have multiple Internet connections that will 'fail-over', and multiple LAN segments that can be firewalled off from each other, they can be given different net connections to use, and you can customize the level of access for each LAN. So you can put your important internal servers on a seperate segment from your general purpose email/browsing PCs, and limit/eliminate their net access.
      It also comes with built-in email virus filtering (you have to pay for virus scanner license). oh, and it runs Apache with mod_ssl so you can deploy web-based apps on it and use cool x509 certificates for access control...

      I could go on and on... it's made for people who don't necessarily know how to use linux, but if you do then there's all kinds of cool stuff you can add.
    • by mmontour (2208) <mail@mmontour.net> on Wednesday February 27, 2002 @02:06PM (#3078668)
      The web-based interface was nice, frankly, but the modified Redhat distro it comes loaded with is ridiculously sparse, and the omission of certain little things like, say, GCC makes adding any functionality a real pain in the ass. Unless, of course, you can find all the binaries you need for its StrongARM architecture. Not that they encourage you to expand it anyway, but as far as I'm concerned that slashes its hack value in half.

      You had an "office server". It shipped with a stripped-down distribution designed for end users. It wasn't *supposed* to have any hack value.

      There was also a development model (same hardware, give or take some RAM and HD) that included all the necessary tools and utilities. The DM disk images were available for download from www.netwinder.org, so you could have easily upgraded your unit if you'd ever bothered to look. IIRC there was also a Debian version for the Netwinder.

      When it came out, there was only the development model. Its first market was Linux hackers, and the core development team were very active (and helpful) on the newsgroups and mailing lists.

      The Netwinder is an underfeatured, overreviewed device which encourages incompetent administration and ruins people's lives. Trust me.

      No, the Netwinder is a very-cool-but-now-outdated Linux-friendly hardware platform that was hijacked by a group of clueless marketroids who thought that spending $BIGNUM on a cheesy domain name and a stack of glossy brochures was a better idea than actually continuing to develop the product.

      That became the "selling point" and the privilege fell to me of going to the site, completely reconfiguring the entire office to access the Internet via a gateway (which involved actually installing TCP/IP on several of the Windows 95 machines,[...]

      So you're blaming the Netwinder for the trouble you had re-configuring an office full of mongrel Windows 95 boxes???
  • Very high density. You could get 4 systems into 1U of a standard 19" rack. I know you can get blade servers these days with 19 servers/3U.

    It'd be better if they didn't force the OS though. Just use whatever is your favourite. ARM Debian, SuSe, *BSD, whatever. Sell the platform and make it easy to add an OS.

    • Re:Cool servers. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mmontour (2208)
      It'd be better if they didn't force the OS though. Just use whatever is your favourite. ARM Debian, SuSe, *BSD, whatever. Sell the platform and make it easy to add an OS.

      I'm not sure what you mean by "force the OS". The bootloader is designed to load a Linux kernel, but apart from that there's nothing restricting your choice of distribution.

      Changing the OS does require a bit of effort because the Netwinder doesn't have any removable media drives, but once you've set it up to net-boot from another machine it's easy to wipe the drives and put on whatever you want.

      However not all software will compile/run on the StrongARM platform; many packages have hidden bugs or x86-only assumptions that are exposed by the new architecture (e.g. structure padding, endian-ness, word alignment). You can't just take the stack of SuSE source RPMs and expect to build a fully-functional port. However this is more the fault of the software than of the hardware.

      Details about the Debian Netwinder version are here [debian.org].
    • Sure, you could fit 4 206-mhz strongarms in a small space, but it's likely to be much cheaper and easier to use one 800-MHZ box, or one 1600-MHz box. The new Crusoe platform may be more interesting, if it actually gets built.
      • Obviously the intel kit's cheaper but if you need a large number of servers in a small space, or were paying by rackspace they were pretty nifty.

        Now, if someone were to create a small 1U case for say, the recent FlexATX motherboards or similar, which held multiple AMD based servers per 1U case, I'm sure I wouldn't be the only one interested.

  • Basic Idea is Good (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 4of12 (97621) on Wednesday February 27, 2002 @01:33PM (#3078444) Homepage Journal

    The Netwinder has in it a great idea, which will succeed at some point.

    That is, Internet access through a dedicated appliance that is cheaper, easier to use and has a smaller footprint than a conventional general purpose PC.

    Linux can help with this in one respect I'm sure: Windows is an expensive part of many PCs.

    But the other ingredients are no less critical: nice form factor (take a lesson from Apple), good marketing.

    • If that's all you're going to use it for, why would spend all that money on it when I could get something just as functional for a fraction the price from companies like Netgear or Linksys?
    • Another selling point was to have been "low power, low heat, no fan". Unfortunately, though various engineering failures, it became "low power, low heat, fricking noisy fan".
      -russ
  • What has changed? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by NOT-2-QUICK (114909) on Wednesday February 27, 2002 @01:36PM (#3078468) Homepage
    The first line of the article [ottawabusi...ournal.com] states in reference to the Netwinder appliance:

    "The technology product that drove Rebel.com's business plan and also led to its demise is being resurrected to create a new Ottawa company."

    Perhaps I am missing something, but what would make these investors believe that the final outcome of this new venture will prove to be any more profitable? If anything, I would point to the current state of the world's economy as even more reason not to resurrect a once-dead product of the infamous Dot-Com era...

    • by madfgurtbn (321041)
      what would make these investors believe that the final outcome of this new venture will prove to be any more profitable

      They bought it for less than $300k. Someone else took the mulimillion dollar bath on the R&D of this thing, so they don't have much to lose. It's all upside potential and little or no downside.
    • by Rupert (28001)
      I may be misremembering, but I thought what led to rebel.coms demise was paying a ludicrous figure for a domain name, and being run by idiots that didn't realize that that was a bad idea.
      • Re:What has changed? (Score:3, Interesting)

        by nologin (256407)

        It wasn't just the domain name. This company was also well known for its spend-thrift parties, social functions, etc. etc. If you didn't know any better, you would think that the company knocked off a bank or two every so often to finance these events.

        The product (Netwinder) didn't kill them at all. It was the fact that they lavishly spend money all while believing they could never run out of cash. They also racked up millions in debt, so much so that they were being cutoff as a reseller for other equipment.

        Hopefully, the new company won't follow the same path as Rebel.com, because they'll have a much greater chance at being successful.

        • It wasn't just the domain name. This company was also well known for its spend-thrift parties, social functions, etc. etc. If you didn't know any better, you would think that the company knocked off a bank or two every so often to finance these events.

          They sent me a key ring (half way around the world) because I had a netwinder DM I guess. All I wanted was an assurance of continued support.

    • /. linked to coverage of the autopsy [slashdot.org] of rebel.com last September. Rebel's problems were mostly financial in nature. The Ottowa Citizen article in the original /. link lists some of the symptoms . . .

      By the late 1990s, [Mac] Brown was on top of the world. Revenues at Hardware Canada Computing were approaching $40 million annually and the company was solidly profitable, boasting net margins of 8 to 12 per cent of sales, according to Brown.

      Already though, there were warning signs. Most serious entrepreneurs plow their company's earnings back into the business to help finance new projects, research and growth. Brown was already diverting a significant portion of his profits into supporting an extravagant lifestyle. Generous with his money when it came to family and friends, he had moved many of his New Brunswick relatives -- including his parents and two brothers -- into well-appointed homes in the Ottawa area. Brown built himself a 12,000 square foot home and marina on the river near Manotick.


      . . .

      The company had already distinguished itself by spending more on its Corel Centre entertainment suite than most of the other, much larger corporations with a presence at the arena: Aside from the $120,000 annual rental, Rebel was shelling out more than $1,000 per night for food and drinks.


      Unfortunately both parts of the Ottawa Citizen article are now invisible except to paid subscribers to the Citizen. Their no-cost archive only goes back 14 days.

      Regards,

      -l

    • For one thing, instead of 20 Million, they have only 1/4 million spent on product development so far. That cuts out a lot of expense.
      Now if they can avoid the temptaion to have a big blow-out party at the Hard Rock Cafe in the by-ward market.
  • seriously (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mirko (198274)
    with the upcoming Zaurus (same proc, 64MB RAM, IBM 1GB microdrive, cheap)... do we still need such boxes ?
    • You know, this is a *very* interesting point.
      A StrongARM PDA is quite attractive as a web
      server. I'd eschew the microdrive, just keep
      static content in flash, and use the CF slot
      for a 100bTX interface instead.

      As server blades,
      these things would be a *dream*: Ultra low power,
      trivial heat dissipation, built-in LCD console.
      And the best part is, they have consumer-level
      economies of scale, so that price/performance
      is way ahead of anything you can drop in a 2U
      backplane.

      Someone should make a rack mount for these things.
  • Looking for a niche (Score:2, Informative)

    by 1984 (56406)
    I still have an earlyish engineering sample of a Netwinder lying about. For a while it did sterling service hooked up to my ADSL line as a Web Server. But it was always somewhat idosyncratic.

    For a while I've wanted a small, silent desktop that could be always on without waking the neighbours and do thin-ish client stuff. The Netwinder packed a lot into a very small case, and had a tiny but exceptionally noisy fan trying to keep it all cool. People had hacks for slowing up the fan or nifty ways of making it quieter, but it was noisier than many desktops. The range of ports for video I/O, modem etc. were never all made to work, and (I think) they dropped several of the more esoteric hardware features on the production models.

    Besides the fan, it was slow and had crap graphics. OK for a server, but not as a client. With 2MB of video RAM and a poor quality output, display was limited to 1024*768, and not 24-bit colour. Performance was bad enought that even running just Citrix ICA on X was just too slow to be comfortable. So it just didn't quite cut it as a client: too noisy, too slow, poor graphics.

    I guess the blade version may have been pretty useful, but the desktop version just didn't quite fit. I'd argue there's not a widespread need to make a server quite that tiny for use a gateway, SMB server (don't forget the small disk), whatever. Why not have a bigger, cheaper, quieter and faster server? Anything you could do with a Netwinder, you could do with a cheap PC with a couple of ethernet cards in it.

    If they could make it quiet, stick in just a little more horsepower and decent graphics, it might make a nice client. But that's a lot of "ifs". As it was, it didn't quite cut it.
  • They had a desktop version too. Tiny computer, about the size of one of those lil' DEC Multias. Back in '98, I considered buying one over the K62-350 I was planning on getting. I'm a sucker for elegance, power efficiency and a small computer. And the StrongARM processor. Two things kept me from doing it: the price (buying a Mac was far more cost effective- did that a year later) and the fact that GCC for ARM can't do any optimizations without crashing and burning. A damn shame, 'tis.
  • by brokeninside (34168) on Wednesday February 27, 2002 @01:57PM (#3078623)
    • Price themselves into oblivion

      The first time around, while a netwinder could hypothetically save money because of its low-power consumption, in practice the premium one paid over faster, better supported hardware would have made it tough to break even over the useful life of the product.

    • Spend money on the wrong things

      How much did rebel.com pay for the domain name again? And for using the James Dean logo? For hot tub parties? For limos?

    • Lag on updating the OS

      The variant of Linux on the Netwinder was quite old, to the point of being outdated and making it quite difficult to install other programs.



    The netwinder hardware has impressed me since I first read about it. IMHO, if they would have taken the design to slightly ruggedized portables (Apple Message Book style) and PDAs and spent more money on attracting developers, they would have made a killing.

    The big thing, though, is to keep from repeating the spending mistakes of the past.

    Regards,

    -l

    • How much did rebel.com pay for the domain name again? And for using the James Dean logo? For hot tub parties? For limos?

      Yeah, see this story [slashdot.org]. I live in Ottawa, and I remember reading it in the local paper. You really have to question a company having parties with strippers frolicking in the swimming pool. Ah, the dot-com boom "good old days" :-)

  • I've spent a lot of time playing with thoes little netwinders. The linux distro that it comes with is second rate and the hardware is buggy. I had the opportunity to play with dozens of the things and some of them would power down if you unplug the ether net cables. The driver that monitors the internal temp of the box would often cause it to lock up. I could care less if they come back or not. They screwed up once, and they'll do it again.
  • ... in POG form!

    Sorry, one of my favorite lines.
  • I have one... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rambo (2730) on Wednesday February 27, 2002 @02:45PM (#3078989)
    And really enjoy it. I've had it since back in '98 when they first came out and the software on it has improved enormously. Netwinder.org [netwinder.org] is still up after all this time and people are still creating new disk images for it and updating it. Even though the processor (275 MHz) is not anything to brag about, it works wonderfully for a firewall/FTP server/etc, which is what I use it for. It's a heck of a lot more versatile than a dedicated box and doesn't make much noise or heat. It's great to be able to fire up a copy of Ethereal to sniff packets right off my cable modem. A great little box for what it does, but unfortunately I think they priced themselves out of their primary market-- dedicated firewalls and print/file servers.
    • Netwinder.org is still up after all this time

      It was unreachable for me earlier this morning, but it's back now.

      Feb 27 2002 - Slashdotted!!!! by ralphs

      Well this is a good test of the old StrongARM netwinder... we're getting bombarded with http requests after a story got posted on Slashdot. Temporarily I've taken the FAQ offline because it generates way too much load...

      1:18pm up 119 days, 20:18, 1 user, load average: 124.91, 102.34, 101.20


      (the FAQ in question is a CGI-based FAQ-o-Matic).
      From their 'site info' page:

      NetWinder.org is hosted on a dual StrongARM rackmount NetWinder system, each with 128MB of RAM and a 10GB drive.

      The uptime record for the server is 460 days. At that time we had to shut it down, in order to relocate the system from the former Rebel.com premises.

  • by Alexander (8916) on Wednesday February 27, 2002 @02:50PM (#3079031) Homepage
    I hope they succeed just in that I used to know a couple of folks at the old rebel who worked too hard and had stupid management kill the company.

    I mean, all that money for rebel.com and James Dean, yet it was my impression that they spent very little budget building channel and getting distributors (I'm not sure they ever got Techdata, Ingram or Merisel).

    As previous posts alluded to, VPN thing was a mess. There were deals in place with vendors to try to get real (not PPTP) client server VPNs on the box. Rebel engineering understood and looked out for end user security. At the time the use of Strong Arm and the lack of mature VPN technology really hurt their efforts, though (and the deals they were asking the VPN vendors for). Later, it's my understanding that they actually made nifty Free S/WAN boxes.

    It'll be interesting to see if this company can revive the "cute little office server" market. Cobalt Product Management and the Sun purchase has essentially run the Qube product into the ground. It was interesting to see Sun's public "commitment" to "Linux" when the Cobalt BU has been so ignored (let's just say that integration into the sales mix didn't go to well, and casulties in the first Sun layoffs included most of Cobalt Sales and Marketing).

    Combine the loss of sales interest from Sun with a total lack of new product releases and feature sets from the Cobalt line, and you have to hurt for those who really believe in the Cobalt products. Because while it's nice to have an "appliance" product, I'm not sure I want to spend Cobalt pricing for an AMD 450 with a tiny hard drive or two when I can build a pretty nice server myself for the money.

    I also liked the Rebel.Net idea. Ok, maybe not the name, but bundling a Netwinder as a SOHO/SMB server with DSL service seemed like a real value and a way help those businesses not have to spend extra $$ on Win2k and Compaq hardware.

    I hope that the new company will continue to use an x86 architecture, and that they'll find a better quality hardware source. With the excuse that most of my experience with the Netwinders were pre-release units, they did tend to rattle and hum at times (maybe it wasn't the hardware but the shipping box?!).

    I really had respect for the software engineering side that Rebel had.
    • I also liked the Rebel.Net idea. Ok, maybe not the name, but bundling a Netwinder as a SOHO/SMB server with DSL service seemed like a real value and a way help those businesses not have to spend extra $$ on Win2k and Compaq hardware.
      What do extra PIDs have to do with Win2k and Compaq?
      • Photo Ionisation Detectors?

        My train of thought was thus: If we hop in the wayback machine to 1999....

        Well, if you're, say, the CEO of Springfield Cardboard Box Co (Springfield, Springfield!). I do maybe 1,000,000 in sales and have about 15 employees, maybe 7 of which are behind a desk. You've got a simple internal network (still Novell 4, or maybe since you've made that leap to 95 and your wife's brother is a "PC guy" you have a simple SMB network. You might also have an springfieldbox@aol.com that you dial out from your desktop.

        You read about this new DSL stuff, and you sunk money into Office 97 and it has this outlook thing, and you really should think about this internet thing and some slick guy tries to sell you on a website.... But you make cardboard boxes, and the only reason you trade electrons with other computers in the first place is because your brother in law set up your network BUT YOU HAVE TO GET THIS INTERNET THING NOW! Bell Canada comes along with this "high speed Internet, 20 times faster than aol". But to integrate yourself you can do one of two things. Spend the time and money to hire some M$ outfit to come drop an NT server down (Win2k and Compaq) or there's this nice bundle with this "Office Server" that you, the box guy, can hit a web page and give everyone an email address and desktop access with. It's also a file server, so with the VPN feature (that never worked) I can connect from my new Bell Canada home DSL and get that spreadsheet I want to work on this weekend.

        Vaporware, yes - but all I said was that I liked the idea. At that point, an NT server was cost and expense (including maint.) that a little linux box really had an advantage over.
  • Forgot about Crusoe! (Score:5, Informative)

    by andrewm (9862) <andrewm@netwinder.org> on Wednesday February 27, 2002 @02:53PM (#3079058) Homepage
    The new NetWinder Inc. will likely be selling off their stock of StrongARM first, before they start to ship the Transmeta Crusoe versions.

    The Crusoe version is x86 compatible, much faster, has floating point, comes with USB, has PCMCIA as an option, all in a box the same size as the StrongARM (same box actually). And it is quieter. Not bad for 14 Watts peak.

    Yes, price is going to be the monkey on their backs. It's hard when using laptop components which are premium priced to begin with.

    I wish them success though.

    -- an ex Corel Computer Corp (CCC)/Corel/Hardware Canada Computing (HCC)/Rebel.com employee
  • by eimaj (35726) on Wednesday February 27, 2002 @03:16PM (#3079223)
    The NetWinder was originally going to be a Java-based office desktop, running Corel's Java port of WordPerfect andother office-type apps. The Java ports were horribly slow and buggy as I recall, so it was re-cast as an web/file/internet-gateway server. The later rebel.com versions were based on the TransMeta chip, not the StrongARM.

    Cool points:

    1. The 275MHz StrongARM chip was fast (in 1998) and low power - the power supply for the unit is a little plug-in "wall wart".
    2. Dual built-in ethernet, perfect for NAT setup.
    3. Composite video in/out.
    4. ARM binaries of sendmail/etc. immune to x86 script-kiddie stack-smashing attacks (might crash, but unlikely to get rooted).

    Downsides:

    1. Incredibly noisy fan, I mean it sounded like a hair dryer. I used to keep it hidden under my desk to mask the noise, and a few months ago I finally just took off the top half of the case and disabled the fan. An office full of these things? Forget it.
    2. Too many apps had problems because they relied on x86 (lack-of) alignment. This could usually be worked around with -mshort-load-bytes and other GCC options, but after about 6 months of honestly trying to use the NetWinder as my main desktop, I gave up and went back to x86.

    ...

    I saw the NetWinder at Linux Expo 1998, and I just had to have one. I still have it doing NAT/gateway for my cable internet hookup, running kernel 2.4.5 with an iptables script. The netwinder.org folks are still keeping the mailing lists alive and even working on a RH7.2 port.

    It would be neat to see them base a new version on say a 1GHz XScale (I understand gcc ARM support has improved a lot since 1998), get the fan thing and other engineering nits right this time, and yes, don't over price it.

  • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) on Wednesday February 27, 2002 @03:31PM (#3079325) Homepage Journal

    Scenario:

    • company develops cool software
    • company doesn't make enough money and gathers alot of debt
    • company Open Sources software
    • company folds, no IP assets to sell off, creditors and sharholders screwed
    • new company started
    • bases new product on Open Source software
    • most of the work is already done, so they can start with a clean slate and make some money

    I'm not saying this is what happened here, but when I read the story it gave me the idea. The shareholders in the old company would probably attempt to go after the new company and/or declare the Open Sourcing illegal, after the cat's out of the bag.
    • Not quite correct. The main IP Netwinder developed was the NeTTrom boot monitor program. Very handy piece of work and the code for it was never released. All other work on Free Software went to help the wider ARM community. I can't comment on the Crusoe-based machines as I was only interested in the DM
  • I wish that hadn't used those damn external power bricks. It did make the unit smaller, but I kept on loosing the power supply. It wasn't the easiest thing in the world to find a suitable PS for that box. I think that most of the downtime on the netwinder I had was due to lost power supplies.
    • It did make the unit smaller, but I kept on loosing the power supply. It wasn't the easiest thing in the world to find a suitable PS for that box

      s/loosing/losing/

      I ran my Netwinder from a 13.8V 3A supply designed to power automotive accessories (available at Radio Shack or other electronics stores). I also had a 12V gel-cell wired in parallel as a "UPS".
  • Cheaper to build an ix86 based system these days and with flexatx motherboards and cases you can get fairly small. Example:

    http://www.kustompcs.co.uk/product.php?subcat=4
  • Just so y'all know the "device" that netwinder inc will actually be selling is probably not the old strongarm version (2100) but probably the (3100) which included : 10+GB hdds, 128+ MB of ram and a 533MHZ Crusoe Processor. 2 Serial Ports (One for console) 3 Realtek Nics, 2 USB ports (USB Modems and some Nic's). No Video, No Keyboard, No mouse, only a serial console. These run much nicer 4-5 times the hard drive throughput... FYI
  • this is cool.
    just peeked at the ftp site and saw an 'unsupported' directory and am dowloading the dm image from that. it's from last year, but hey my winder has been sitting in a milkcrate for three.
    maybe i'll replace the 120 db fan if it runs well, and actually use it.
    hope these people don't fuck this up like rebel.com did. please excuse my flatulence, as i have been drinking quite heavily.
  • I tried to buy one of these things when the company was doing well. They hit my credit card and after a few weeks of waiting I called to see where my product was. Backordered. TWO MONTHS LATER still no NetWinder. Every call answered with "next week". I eventually took it to my credit card company to fight to get my money back. I will NEVER, EVER buy this product no matter how promising it is. There is no excuse for scummy sales practices.

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