Call for Examples of Open-Source Money Makers

by on March 1, 2010 · 14 comments

Because of some recent skepticism about the economic viability of open-source software (and because of an upcoming presentation I’m giving on the topic), I’m calling on the TLF readership to give me some examples of companies—from big-name brands to small design shops—that are making money through creating or contributing to open-source software projects.

I’m not just looking for millionaires like Matt Mullenweg of WordPress, I’m also looking for examples like design shops contributing to the development of projects like Drupal, independent developers promoting themselves through successful open-source products, or small-scale software support companies who also give back to the code base.

Please leave a comment with as many examples as you like.

  • ineedanaccount

    Let's not forget about money-saving: The fact that businesses that save money and have access to superior technology because of open source.

  • http://www.cordblomquist.com cordblomquist

    The cost-saving aspect of open-source is indeed important, but if we listed all of those companies we'd have to include the 55% of websites running on the LAMP stack, which would be too numerous. That's why I want to focus on software creators/contributors.

  • Ferruccio

    I know of several small, successful software companies whose business model is to develop strong reputation and know-how via open source software contributions, then sell consultancy and customization. For example, in France, Logilab, http://www.logilab.fr/ ; in Italy, Develer, http://www.develer.com/website/en ; in the UK, Clockwork, http://www.clocksoft.com/Welcome/ ; in Germany, merlinux, http://www.merlinux.de/ ; and so on. If you're looking for LARGE successful companies strongly based on Open Source, then I think the best current example is the highly international firm Canonical, http://www.canonical.com/ — not even sure where they're legally incorporated, their employees definitely work, mostly remotely, from all over the world.

  • MikeRT

    The Movable Type and OpenMelody (a fork of MT Open Source) are filled with examples of contributors who have started successful consultancies. In fact, one of the reasons Movable Type is still so successful is because quite a few people have left SixApart to contribute full time to MTOS and Melody while leveraging their names in the community to get contracts.

  • http://www.cato.org/ Jim Harper

    Just checking: It's fine to collect examples of open source money-makers, but I would worry if you premised any presentation on the idea that open source is justified by how much money it makes for anyone.

    Volunteer work on a project with large positive externalities pays off mostly indirectly, not directly and not in money. Contributors to open source projects may make money by selling consulting services, or by touting their individual or collective skills to new clients, but the benefits for most are far more diffuse. They enjoy it, learn from it, and get the benefit when the economic or communications pie grows and there's more of everything for everyone.

    I assume this is implicit in what you'll say – but make it explicit if it's not. How many people make money by joining the Kiwanis club or the Rotarians? Volunteer efforts that nobody questions in terms of dollars generated or economic viability.

  • http://srynas.blogspot.com/ Steve R.

    I don't know whether you would consider this to be off-topic, but there are a lot of forums where people willingly and freely share their knowledge. For those who are consultants (especially in providing educational services and/or design solutions) this would be a form of competition. In fact, some consultants participate in these forums both as a gesture of good-will and to solicit business. See: http://allenbrowne.com/tips.html

  • http://www.cordblomquist.com cordblomquist

    When I say “make money” I don't just mean charging for services like RedHat. I also mean independent developers who release plugins, like my favorite WordPress plugin developer Lester Chan (lesterchan.net). I'm also interested in companies that implement Drupal or other software titles and end up contributing a lot back to the code base.

    I also realize that there are a lot of reasons to contribute to open-source projects outside of the pursuit of the almighty dollar, but others just don't get it. So, I'd like to show that there's some real money to be made working in open source at all levels. Perhaps those folks who just don't find other arguments for the sustainability of open-source software to be that compelling will be convinced of its value and potential.

  • Michael Anderson

    REvolution Computing develops products and services for the R community (statisticians and modelers). Springer-Verlag and CRC Press publish a gang of R books.

  • http://www.timothyblee.com/ Tim Lee

    I think it's important to distinguish the open source development model (what ESR calls “the bazaar”) from open source as a commercial licensing strategy. There are are some open source programs that are commercial products of a single company. There may be few or no people contributing to the code bases of those products as volunteers. There are also open source programs that are developed by a large and active community of hackers. Your observations are spot-on with respect to this latter category. But for the former category, the case for open source really does rest on its money-making capacity. Sun didn't decide to open-source Java because Jonathan Schwartz is a nice guy. It open-sourced Java because it believed doing so would enhance its bottom line. (whether he was right or not is an open question)

    I think it's a mistake to look for “the” justification for open source. There are as many justifications as there are developers. I think it's completely legitimate to focus on open source as a business strategy, as long as he doesn't give the impression that this isn't the only motivation.

  • Timon

    A few that might work especially well for your purposes, where you have direct commercial applications that flow from the original developers, in approximate order of coolness:

    1) Hadoop — Cloudera
    2) Sqlite — Richard Hipp and crew (nice hack, he manages to charge for copyright hand-holding services to a public domain project for companies that absolutely insist on a cushion of legalese!) You've probably used this db 20 times already today.
    3) Xen — XenSource/Citrix
    4) DotNetNuke — Community and commercial add-ins for a popular open source .net product
    5) MongoDB — Used by Disqus, among others
    6) Asterisk — Amazing PBX that supports big surrounding ecosystem including hardware
    7) PostGIS: supported by great smallish outfit that does well in a very interesting and usually way-too-expensive niche

    There are many many more, all of the above have huge mindshare and they or things like them are going to lay waste to billions of dollars in other companies' revenues, while doing well for themselves and their customers.

    A better question: Of the biggest 20 software/tech services companies founded in the last 15 years, are any of them NOT depending on and contributing to open source projects? That is a much harder question than the one in the title! Linux has IBM, Google, Red Hat, AMD, Intel, HP, NetApp, Novell, Nokia, Dell, everyone on this long list. They are not doing it out of the goodness of their hearts.

    Also, interestingly, to the extent the future is mobile it is also open source: Android, Symbian, even the .NET Micro Framework — Microsoft is literally releasing code under the Apache license.

  • Brett Glass

    My ISP runs on FreeBSD, an operating system which (unlike Linux) is licensed in a way that is friendly to developers and encourages them to make products from the code from which they can prosper. Wouldn't develop code based on Linux or anything else under the GPL; the license's anti-developer “poison pill” would likely prevent me from making a dime. But BSD is wonderful and is inside more products than you can name.

  • Pingback: Coding Open Source Software for Fun & Profit

  • http://www.kirapermunian.co.cc/2010/05/700-money-saving-adventure.html moneysavingtips

    Ww! is there really an Open-Source Money Makers? Money Saving Adventure.

  • http://www.kirapermunian.co.cc/2010/05/700-money-saving-adventure.html moneysavingtips

    Ww! is there really an Open-Source Money Makers? Money Saving Adventure.

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