The Internet is full of open-source software in heavy commercial use. You
might say, without open source, there would be no Internet. Some of
the most popular open source products in use today are:
- Linux: the most used
Unix-like operating system on the planet. Versions have been run on
anything from a handheld computers and regular PCs, to the world's
most powerful supercomputers. For a list of popular Linux distributions,
- FreeBSD, OpenBSD,
and NetBSD: The BSDs are all based on
the Berkeley Systems Distribution of Unix, developed at the University of California, Berkeley.
Another BSD based open source project is Darwin,
which is the base of Apple's Mac OS X.
Many of the router boxes and root DNS servers on the internet that keep the
Internet working are based on one of the BSDs or on Linux. A little birdie
told us that Microsoft keeps BSD boxes hidden behind the scenes, in order to
keep their Hotmail and MSN services working. Not surprisingly, most of the
software on top of the operating system that keeps the internet humming is also
- Apache, which runs
over 50% of
the world's web servers.
- BIND, the software
that provides the DNS (domain name service) for the entire Internet.
- sendmail, the most important and
widely used email transport software on the Internet.
- Mozilla, the open source redesign
of the venerable Netscape Browser, is retaking the ground lost by Netscape
in the "browser wars". It has quickly moved from 1.0 to
1.2, adding functionality, stability and cross-platform consistency that
is not available from any other browser.
- OpenSSL is the standard for
secure communication (strong encryption) over the internet.
The TCP/IP DNS, SSL, and e-mail servers are especially interesting because they're "category
killers"; not only are they extremely capable and robust, they're so
good that no commercial competition has ever been successful at
replacing them as the most widely used product on their respective
- Perl, Zope,
and PHP, are popular engines behind the "live content" on the World Wide Web.
- Powerful High Level Languages like Python,
Ruby, and Tcl/Tk
owe much of their success and prevalence to the active community of
developers that use them and continue their development.
- The GNU compilers and tools (GCC, Make,
Autoconf, and Automake, and others) are arguably the most powerful,
flexible, and extensible set of compilers in the world. Almost all
open source projects use them as their primary development tools.
Developer tools are especially well represented, because without open source
programming tools, open source software would require proprietary tools to build
and maintain it. There are literally hundreds of thousands of
popular open source packages, covering every imaginable category of software,
and more are being developed every single day. Why? Because free Open Source
software such a compelling idea, that once people begin to understand it, most
people want to learn to use, promote, and make their own open source software to
share with others. You can also make money using open source software to
deliver products and services to your customers:
Open Source Companies
There is a lively business in selling open-source based solutions. In
particular, the services and support that customers need can be done most
effectively with an entirely open-source system. From top to bottom,
open source companies can deliver a system that works, and that can continue to
change and adapt to your business needs.
In mid-June 1998, IBM chose the open-source Apache webserver to support and
bundle with its WebSphere suite. It has since released the Secure
Mailer in open source and launched the AlphaWorks site to
disseminate cutting-edge IBM technology in source. Since that time, IBM's commitment
to open source has grown substantially, from contributing a new journalled
filesystem to Linux kernel development, to making Linux the primary
operating system on all their high end mainframe servers.
Novell has become a player in this space with acquisitions of SUSE LINUX and Ximian in 2003, gaining both a powerful and well respected Linux Distribution, but also the creative minds at Ximian whose work on the Gnome Desktop and the Mono programming language are the envy of hacker types everywhere.
In March of 1999, Apple released the core layers of Mac OS X Server as
an open source BSD operating system called Darwin. Apple was the first
mainstream computer company to build its future around open source,
and is partnering with the Apache Group, FreeBSD, NetBSD, and other
open source developers to work on evolving the Mac OS X platform.
Apple has expanded its involvement by open sourcing the QuickTime
Streaming Server in April, and the OpenPlay
network gaming toolkit in May.
HP has bet on Linux as the technology of choice for it's new line of high end
servers based on the HP/Intel's jointly developed Itanium processor
technology. HP (Compaq IPAQ) handhelds can run Linux, too. HP also offers
integrated support options for commercial customers who want support running
open source systems on their HP or Compaq servers. HP has yet to see the
light in the consumer space, however.
Sun uses Linux on a line of small servers
originally made by Cobalt. In addition, Sun supports open source
development efforts such as the Forte IDE for Java, and the Mozilla web browser
SGI has long funded prominent open source contributors, made many
hardware donations (including big servers), and shown general friendliness toward open
source. It sponsors the Samba
project (an NT compatible file/print server running on all Unix
systems that outperforms
the Microsoft NT server), a port of Linux to SGI/MIPS machines, and is
open-sourcing GLX (OpenGL extensions to X11)
In August 1999 SGI open-sourced the XFS journaling file system.
SGI promises this trend will
continue and strengthen
in the future with even more significant contributions, and has
launched an open-source site. Since that
time, SGI has dropped most support for it's proprietary Unix variant, and
focused its energy on running Linux on its high end products.
Sharp's new Zaurus handhelds (SL-5500, SL-5600) run exclusively on
Linux. These handhelds are not only the ultimate in cool open-source toys,
they are also personal organizers, and powerful mobile computing
tools. Expect more great open source offerings from from Sharp if this PDA
continues to do well in the market.
Cyclades manufactures routers, rack-mounted remote access servers, multiport-serial and networking cards. They
have a long history of cooperating with the open-source world. Their
drivers for Linux and FreeBSD are open-source, and their rack-mounted hardware
runs open source Linux.
Red Hat Software
An extremely successful Linux vendor.
They have shipped more paid copies of Red Hat Linux than any other vendor.
In their last quarter (2002) they surprised the post-dot-com economy, that
assumed Linux was old news, by returning a profit. All indications
are that they will continue to succeed, both in delivering open source
technology, and in developing a compelling profitable business model.
ActiveState is a privately-held corporation with
investors that include O'Reilly & Associates, Inc. ActiveState leads the
industry in providing professional tools for Perl, Python, and Tcl/tk
developers. In addition to maintaining the ActivePerl distribution on Windows
and Unix, ActiveState provides sophisticated integrated tools, with professional
support, for commercial software developers.
Sleepycat Software, Inc.
Sleepycat Software builds, distributes, and supports Berkeley DB (BSDDB), the
open-source embedded database system. Berkeley DB offers programmers
reliable, scalable database services with very little overhead. It
has a small footprint and requires virtually no database
administration by end users. Sleepycat's customers include many of
the leading open-source projects, as well as Fortune 500 companies
whose own products are proprietary. The complete source code for Berkeley DB
is available for download from Sleepycat's
Covalent Technologies develops commercial software enhancements for
the Apache Web server platform and provides full commercial support
packages for Apache. Covalent maintains its role as a founding member
of the Apache Project and actively participates in the research,
development and administrative efforts of the Apache Software Foundation.
Zope Corporation developed the Zope content management system, which provides
web sites with dynamic content creation and management tools, useable by both
programmers and non-programmers. Their core technology (the Zope engine)
is entirely open source, and is powered by the open source Python programming
Open Source in Government and Non-Profit
If the many recent news announcements are any indication, governments are
beginning to wake up to the potential for open source software used in
government offices, and are starting to understand the benefits of open
source to the whole community. Expect to see more and more
public-sector and non-profit organizations around the world utilizing open
source software to build a better tomorrow for all of us!
prepared for OSI by Warren Postma