As a FOSS (Free, Open Source Software) advocate, I find myself in a state of shock over what I've observed over the past ten or so years in this realm. If I asked you to name the most successful open source companies (Companies that derive the majority of their income from open source software), which ones would you name? Red Hat? Novell? MySQL? Canoncial? Those are all great answers. These three are perhaps the best known and most successful of all the companies that derive their incomes from open source software. Now, what if I asked you to name the most successful software companies in the world--closed or open source? Would your answers change? Yes, unfortunately, they would. In fact, the ten most successful software companies in the world are closed source ones.
I know that "success" is a relative term but I'm talking about success as measured in revenue dollars, stock prices and number of customers. You won't find one open source company among them.
Here are the ten in alphabetical order:
1. Adobe - Just about everyone who has a computer has used an Adobe product by choice or by need. The ubiquitous PDF (Portable Document Format) uses the Adobe Reader to do its presentation. Adobe features other development software such as the old Macromedia lineup and coldfusion.
2. Apple - Apple, the seductress of the computing world, is one of the most successful software and hardware companies and it's all closed source--always has--always will. You can count on Apple to bring you innovation, clever design and products that people want all at a price that many are willing to pay.
3. Autodesk - Purveyors of AutoCAD have long since held the belief that their CAD product is the best on the planet. They must be correct because they have >90% of the CAD software market in their hip pocket and have for the last 20 years. Closed source hasn't hurt their business.
4. IBM - IBM is a huge open source benefactor but it's also one of the largest cloud source software vendors. From the wonderful OS/2 operating system to their AS400 all the way up to their z/OS, you'll not find one shred of open source. Their Tivoli line? Closed source. Lotus? Yep. Closed. In spite of their many closed sources, check out their earnings and liquidity.
5. Intuit - I use QuickBooks. You probably do too or know someone who does. There's no Linux version. There's no source available--legally. There's no company more successful with their small business accounting products. In fact, name another company in that field if you can.
6. Microsoft - The Dark Side of software. Or so open source advocates, like me, would have you believe. Yes, there have been some business practice questions raised in the past, but Microsoft is the largest, most successful software company in history. Like it or not, Microsoft owns the Desktop and the lion's share of applications that run on it. Games, office products, accounting, server software and operating systems reach into almost every home and business in the world. Having closed source products has hurt their reputation among bloggers and free software lovers but it hasn't affected their bottom line. Keep spreading that anti-Microsoft propaganda, like I do, and it still won't matter to them.
7. Oracle - Yes, I realize that I just wrote, "20 Reasons Why Oracle is the World's Largest Open Source Company," and Oracle has done an immense amount of work in open source but their revenue mainstays? Do I need to say it? Closed source. Successful? Oh, yes. Oracle has the majority of enterprise market share for their unbeatable database products.
8. SAP - If you look into any large company, you'll see SAP products. And that's anywhere in the world. Their CRM (Customer Relationship Management) and ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) products are the Gold standard for business. Sure they allow people to create APIs and other connectivity software but the main products are all closed source.
9. Symantec - Norton, BackupExec, Ghost and Antivirus. Closed source. Success. Simply Symantec. Few products match the quality and success of Symantec's and they've been around a long time. To this day, I've never found a better product than Ghost for cloning machines (P2P). I wish they'd come out with a P2V, V2V and V2P products for virtual machines. So far I haven't seen any others that I'd own.
10. VMware - Speaking of virtual machines. This closed source software company has made zillions of dollars with their top-rated, enterprise virtualization products. They enjoy a >90% market share of the virtualization space and all the free products in the world can't seem to change that. Why is that? Quality. Expertise. Support. Reliability. Sure there are open source products that have all those too and at a tenth, or less, of the cost. So what is it about VMware that makes it so successful? Innovation. They are the best. Closed sources and all.
So, what's the lesson here? Do you have to create a closed source software product for it to be successful? No. But it helps. There are those open source exceptions and perhaps their numbers will increase over time but the odds are in favor of closed source software.
I didn't say that I like it. I'm just the messenger.
What do you think? If you were to start a new software company today, would you start an open source or closed source one?