Open source and Linux have been hugely successful, changing how software is developed and delivered. Naturally, one of the ways that success can be measured is in dollars, though the corporate world’s two-fisted adoption of open source have seen the rewards accrue and spread in ways visionary Linus Torvalds couldn’t have predicted all of those years ago in his Finnish college dorm room.
Yes, Linux was created by an undergraduate.
Believe it or not, the world’s biggest company, begun by a college drop out in a suburban garage, is a major player in the open source space. Apple’s BSD-based Mac operating system includes much that is open source and their popular Safari browser has roots in free software, as well.
However, Apple is known for being anything but open, keeping customers locked in through a finely threaded weave of “it just works” functionality and proprietary features. The poster child for closed systems is unquestionably successful with $100-plus billion in revenue and a market valuation of around $600 billion.
Contrast that with Red Hat, arguably the most successful Linux vendor. According to Wired, the company will (i.e. hasn’t yet) cracked the $1 billion revenue mark this year.
The other big Linux vendor of note, Canonical, can claim more users but revenues in the tens of millions.
Mixology of profit
And, that’s the way of things. Google, Intel, IBM, Dell and a long list of others have built staggering revenue streams and profits by leveraging Linux and other open source software to produce their hugely successful proprietary products. It can be argued that open source is the interoperability that makes our connected world possible.
Still, Red Hat and Canonical struggle and fight for every dollar, to remain relevant in the public eye.
Is this a case of undue enrichment by Apple et al or just the natural order of things?