Who is Creating Businesses on the Backs of Free and Open Source Software?

Posted by Marbenz Antonio on March 31, 2022

As a commodity and a business, free and open-source software holds a unique position. The program has zero marginal cost (to use an economics phrase) and is infinitely repeatable and easy to distribute (for those with decent Internet connection), but it needs some knowledge to build and significant expertise to successfully maintain.

This article looks at various businesses that make money by promoting free software. Let’s start with a sobering observation: detractors of free software have long said that you can’t make a living selling free software, and this is true. A community, not a firm, should own free and open-source software. Thousands of individual programmers, on the other hand, make a career by giving free all of their code, and open-source may even be used to build profitable enterprises.

From CD Stacks to VM Stacks

Every business has discovered how difficult it is to transform a concept into a finished product. One historical example is Dava Sobel’s book Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time, which chronicles the creation of the chronometer in the 18th century. We don’t know if Sobel picked the subtitle, but the book’s main takeaway is that the inventor did not solve the problem on his own. He was never able to create a durable version of his invention that could be mass-produced and marketed at a reasonable cost; that task was left to a later engineer.

When it comes to transitioning from source code to production-ready deployment, free and open-source software has its own set of obstacles. Cygnus Solutions, which helped build several programming tools for the GNU project, was one of the first firms to bridge the divide. Despite serving a small niche of programmers interested in the GNU platform, the firm was an essential element of the computer infrastructure in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

“We were setting a market price for all the preparation that needed to be done to find, collect, configure, test, document, distribute, and maintain packages of free software competitive with proprietary software,” said Michael Tiemann, the creator of Cygnus, years later.

Cygnus went on to create Cygwin, a free Unix-like environment that can be installed on Microsoft Windows. This package of tools was installed by many Windows users who valued the advantages of the Unix shell and utilities. Cygwin was the forerunner to Microsoft’s Windows Subsystem for Linux, which was introduced in 2019.

Red Hat was a more prominent and successful proponent of the two-phase concept of packaging a solid distribution of free software and following up with support. Tiemann revealed at a presentation about Red Hat that he saw the potential in the little company right away and attempted to buy it, but the Cygnus board and management refused. Red Hat, on the other hand, finally purchased Cygnus. Since then, Tiemann has held several leadership positions at Red Hat.

Transparency, inclusiveness, flexibility, collaboration, and community are the essential values of open organizations, according to Jim Whitehurst (currently President of IBM), who served as Chief Executive Officer of Red Hat.

Red Hat contributes to free software groups, such as the Java Spring framework, and produces its free software. Because a group of hackers named the CentOS project re-engineered Red Hat methods, anybody could operate a GNU/Linux system using the same versions of software present in Red Hat’s commercial edition, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, for a long period. CentOS was taken over by Red Hat after many years, and it currently exists as a form of test release for Red Hat, sitting between the more experimental Fedora project and the stable RHEL.

They declared that they would be going “up the stack,” concentrating on frameworks like Spring and other tools for today’s hot computing jobs, such as Web development. They’ve followed the computer industry into virtual machines and cloud computing, and they’re currently concentrating their efforts on their OpenShift container-based platform.

They occupied a relatively secure niche when it came to offering GNU/Linux systems to their clients, with just a few rivals such as Canonical (which maintains the extremely popular Ubuntu distribution) and SUSE. By abandoning this niche in favor of virtualization and the cloud, Red Hat and Canonical join a market dominated by genuine behemoths like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft, as well as VMWare and even IBM, who acquired Red Hat in 2019.

Companies that founded their strategy on something else created and shared the software. Alternatively, they may work in a field unrelated to computing, such as automotive, but design software to satisfy a personal need and then strive to establish a community around it.

Current open-source business

James Vasile and Karl Fogel, two very skilled free software programmers, manage Open Tech Strategies. They make the majority of their money by developing free software for clients. They also provide consultancy services to companies looking to develop an open-source strategy. Producing Open Source Software: How to Run a Successful Free Software Project was written by Fogel, and their firm created a list of archetypes for open source development for Mozilla.

One of LeadingBit’s main services is assisting companies in establishing an Open Source Program Office (OSPO). OSPOs are becoming a more beneficial investment for both companies and institutions. At opensource.com, a key news and debate site for the open-source movement, some of the tools and methods that might assist construct an effective OSPO are outlined.

An OSPO’s initial responsibility is to locate and record all of the free software that the corporation or college is employing. Because programmers smuggle it in without alerting management for some reason, many managers are unaware that they are using and even distributing free software. This is both unfair and dangerous, especially if the programmer includes code with a restricted license (essentially the GPL) in the company’s exclusive product. The masquerade can sometimes come to an end when a proprietary product generates an error message that alerts free software developers to the fact that their code has been stolen. Such embarrassments might occur if there is no openness and responsibility inside the firm.

Some other tasks of an OSPO include:

  • Creating and enforcing regulations for the use and creation of free software
  • Providing staff with time off to participate in free software groups outside of the company
  • Creating incentives for people to participate in and contribute to these communities
  • Creating a general framework for the usage of free software in the company

Bonewald is dedicated to improving the maturity of free software through strengthening open source communities and products. Accountability, contributor stability and maintenance, support availability, security checks, and gathering metrics to support all of those attributes are some of the features that move towards maturity.

Bonewald has also been working on a platform called IEEE SA OPEN for the past year, arguing that open source communities can learn a lot from standards creation. Well-known organizations such as the Apache Foundation, the Eclipse Foundation, the Linux Foundation, and the Savannah project of the GNU project fulfill this function.

The CLA Linux Institute is a non-profit organization that operates in numerous companies and is now online. 4Linux is a Brazilian firm that focuses on open-source software classes for teenagers, focusing on unique, engaging training techniques and resources.

By launching LPI testing in Brazil, 4Linux spearheaded the first campaign to offer certifications for free and open-source software to the country. They may also brag about being the world’s first firm to provide a Linux online education. They used to perform more coding, but now they only conduct testing and bug fixes. 4Linux shows interest in open source from start-ups and tech-based businesses, in addition to government.


Open source has shown to be not just long-lasting, but also essential to modern life. Big data, artificial intelligence, and encryption are examples of hot new software projects that are released as open-source. Even in the cloud, the majority of these cutting-edge services are open source, which consumers like since they know they can study the technology without being tied to a specific cloud vendor.

Free software is produced and maintained by the world’s largest computing corporations, including IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle, and others. These businesses rely on free software to support their proprietary operations. Thousands of professionals will be able to live out their dreams as free software programmers as a result of their efforts.

However, as this essay has demonstrated, businesses may profit while sticking to open source. Many customers demand free software and will pay you to create it. Money may also be generated by supporting the open-source community and activities.


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