Open Source Platforms
The most well-known open source software is Linux, a UNIX operating system derivative named after its creator, Linus Torvalds. The Linux Foundation, where Linus works, is more or less “in charge of” the operating system kernel. (Of course under open source development philosophy, anyone can take it and fork it into something else but Linus owns the name Linux.) The Linux kernel is turned into a platform by adding a wide range of utility software, primarily developed under the banner of the Gnu organization (gnu.org, which is an adjunct to fsf.org).
The combination of the Linux kernel and the Gnu utilities is still very primitive as compared to the way typical enterprise operating software such as IBM AIX or OS/400, HP VS, or–more recently–Microsoft Windows Server has been distributed for use for 50 years. So one or more open source projects were formed to combine the various components into a more enterprise-friendly distribution. The most well known of these efforts is Debian. Commercial entities were also formed to productize the combination, These include Red Hat, Suse (later acquired by Novell) and others. In kind of a hybrid of this process of moving up the technology stack, Canonical productizes Debian.
The most widely used open source software however is probably the Apache Software Foundation’s Apache HTTP web server. Linux/Gnu and Apache HTTP use very different open source software licenses. (It is the Apache license that allows it to be bundled into closed source software in such a way that the resulting product does not have to be open sourced.) Ironically, more Apache HTTP software is probably running on Windows than Gnu/Linux operating platforms. (In fact, according to a census project begun by open-source-software service provider OpenLogic in 2008, most open source software runs on Windows. Note however that the census is not necessarily statisitcally accurate because it uses an opt-in survey methodology.) The Apache Software Foundation also sponsors dozens of other middleware and application projects, almost all of which are associated with some commercial entity.
Although there are tens of thousands of open source projects underway apart from Linux and Apache, there are only a few that have gained widespread adoption at the enterprise level (and therefore are of particular interest to investors). The others include the MySQL databases (acquired by Sun), the Mozilla Internet browser, the JBoss application server (acquired by Red Hat), the Xen hypervisor (acquired by Citriz), and a series of programming development tools such as Ruby, PHP, Python and Perl.
Almost none of the above is directly relevant to investment decisions unless a publicly traded company’s primary revenue stream involves the open source project’s code (and therefore must adhere to the OSI-compliant license characteristics). The only such company currently is Red Hat. Recent announcement of Linux-based Open Source Mobile OS – MeeGo – joint venture of Nokia (maemo platform) and Intel (Moblin) is remarkable for open source initiative in mobile/portable device space. MeeGo is targeted for phones, Netbooks, in-vehicle systems, Internet connected TVs etc.
Of most interest to investors, many software products originally developed and marketed with a more traditional perpetual or periodic right to use license for a fee (and with closed source code) such as Java Enterprise Edition (JEE), Sun’s Solaris operating system and StarOffice collaboration software (open sourced as OpenOffice), the Compiere ERP suite, and the Ingres database have been made open source retroactively, typically after finding less than desired success when marketed traditionally.