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Sunday, November 23, 2008

The 20 FOSS companies

3Tera uses Linux and open source to build its Virtual Private Datacenter solution, which can be monitored from a browser anywhere in the world. Resources can be added (and, presumably, removed) from your virtual rack at any time.

Alfresco’s Enterprise Content Management (ECM) is being used by large companies to manage intranets as well as major Web portals. The big win for Alfresco in 2007? A deal with Facebook to manage content on the social networking site.
Despite its ugly patent policies, the company is offering some interesting technologies, like its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) that seem likely to catch on in a big way in 2008. We’re also interested in the newly inked deal between Amazon and Red Hat to offer RHEL as part of EC2.
Canonical, the commercial sponsor of Ubuntu, is almost undoubtably going to have a major impact on the open source marketplace in 2008. With its success getting Ubuntu onto consumer laptops and desktops with Dell in 2007.
Centrify just happens to sell a solution along those lines. Centrify DirectControl integrates non-Microsoft systems with Microsoft’s Active Directory. Like it or loathe it, Active Directory isn’t going anywhere. Companies that have spent the money to deploy Active Directory are likely to stick with it, so DirectControl provides the glue between the systems.
That’s the hope of most IT administrators. Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X are inevitable components of most IT environments, and anything that fosters interoperability is going to be a hot technology.

Collaborative Software Initiative launched in early 2007, the brainchild of Stuart Cohen (formerly CEO of the Open Source Development Labs, which merged into the Linux Foundation in 2006). Its business model is to use the open development model to create necessary software for niche markets. For example, CSI’s most recent project is creating software to automate the BITS Shared Assessment Program for companies in the financial services industry.

Digium — the company behind open source telephony engine Asterisk - provides a range of solutions for Voice over IP (VoIP)– from a free edition called Switchvox, to Asterisk based appliances suited for SMBs that want to mix and match VoIP with old-time POTS equipment.EnterpriseDB, which bills itself as” the Oracle-compatible database company.” EnterpriseDB takes PostgreSQL, modifies it a bit with its own secret sauce to make it” Oracle-compatible,” and then undercuts Oracle’s licensing and support prices. The company is also a strong contributor to the PostgreSQL project, which will be important for the company as it continues to depend on PostgreSQL as the basis for its core product.

It’s about time somebody customized the heck out of Linux, put it on a cheap computer, and sold it for a low price. Actually, Everex isn’t the first company to do this, but it seems to be having the most success. The company launched its line of gPC using its Linux-based gOS in the Fall of 2007 through Wal-Mart, of all places. For about $200, anybody can buy an easy-to-use PC that runs Linux (though that’s not really the key selling point) and not break the bank.

As if Google wasn’t a large enough presence in the FOSS world with its ginormous online presence and sponsorship of the Google Summer of Code, the company cemented its place on our Top 20 with the announcement of Android and the Open Handset Alliance (OHA). We’ve long thought that mobile devices are going to play a huge role in the future of personal computing– and that Linux and FOSS would play a huge role in the future of mobile devices. While we’re still disappointed that we didn’t get the gPhone announcement we were hoping for, the OHA could be a major influence in the mobile market.

When we say that companies are worth watching in 2008, we don’t necessarily mean that they’re going to be assisting the open source community. (At least not intentionally.) However, Microsoft’s looming presence in the IT world means that its influence will be felt in the open source community.We’re also watching Microsoft because the company has, finally, taken some tentative steps towards a truce with the open source community. In 2007 Microsoft decided to submit its Microsoft Public License (MsPL) and Microsoft Reciprocal License (MsRL) to the Open Source Initiative (OSI) for approval. If the folks in Redmond wish to remain firmly at odds with the open source community, why approach one of its core institutions for validation?

If you haven’t heard of MontaVista, don’t fret– they’re more often than not behind the scenes. The company specializes in tools and software for telecom and mobile devices, and as such doesn’t necessarily make the same kind of splash as Canonical or Red Hat.  The company announced its fifth-generation operating system for mobile phones, Mobilinux 5.0, in mid-November, with improvements in performance and real-time features. The company claims that it already powers” 90 percent of Linux smartphones,” which is a pretty hefty percentage if not a lot of actual phones at the moment.

Mozilla isn’t quite like any of the other companies on the list– but, technically, the Mozilla Corporation (which owns the non-profit Mozilla Foundation) is a for-profit venture, even if its goal is simply to advance Firefox and other FOSS projects. With Firefox 3.0, we think that the MozCorp folks are important to watch for a couple of reasons. First, because Firefox has been, slowly but surely, increasing its market share over the past few years. Second because Web applications are becoming increasingly important for users and Firefox is at the forefront of enabling more elegant Web applications. Specifically, the work on offline applications that has gone into Firefox 3.0 is likely to be very important to vendors producing Web applications– and important to the users of those apps. The decision in 2007 to form a company behind Thunderbird, dubbed” MailCo” as of this writing, also looms large in our decision to tap MozCorp as a player for 2008. While we like Thunderbird, we think that the mail client was something of a distraction for MozCorp, and Firefox is more than enough to keep an organization busy.

Yes, yes, we know– yawn. Why is Red Hat worth mentioning? Because the company still funds a huge amount of innovation in the Linux and FOSS space.No matter how you slice it, Red Hat carries a lot of weight in the FOSS market. The company’s name is nearly synonymous with” Linux,” and it’s the first company that corporations turn to when they want Linux. Any company that Oracle sets its sights on (via the” Unbreakable Linux” Red Hat clone developed by Oracle) is a sure bet as a company to watch.

Why hassle with deploying software on 20 different Linux distros when you can just bundle up the OS and application and run it on top of VMware, Xen, KVM, Virtuozzo, or another virtualization technology? It’s a no-brainer that Linux makes a great foundation for the virtual appliance concept, but trimming down the fat to get just what you need is quite a lot of work. That’s why we’re interested in rPath and its offerings. The folks at rPath have paved the way to easy virtual appliances with their rBuilder technology and rPath Appliance program. You can even take rBuilder for a spin online to create your own virtual appliance foundation.

A few years ago, we might have counted Sun out. However, Sun’s focus on open source and willingness to look to Linux for inspiration (note the hiring of Ian Murdock to help its Solaris efforts) shows that there’s some fight left in Sun after all. In particular, Sun’s commitment to being open with their technologies over the past few years has impressed us that the company “gets it” when it comes to what customers are looking for — open solutions that don’t lock customers in.

Virtualization is here to stay, but VMware isn’t a lock to retain first place in the market. Underdog SWsoft may be coming up from behind, but it’s technology is first-rate. Companies looking to virtualization to consolidate homogenous Linux or Windows environments should be strongly eyeing Virtuozzo. Another reason we consider SWsoft a strong contender? Its open source roots with OpenVZ, and success at getting pieces of its technology into the mainstream Linux kernel. The company also poses a viable threat on the desktop, with Parallels virtualization technology that runs on Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows. While not as well established as VMware, Parallels has a strong following on the Mac, and is slowly gaining traction on Windows and Linux desktops as well.

Vyatta, a company that’s producing a fully open source router, firewall, and VPN solution. The company isn’t quiet about taking on the big C, and why should it be? Open source companies have never been shy about taking their commercial counterparts to task. But that’s not why we like them. We think Vyatta is a company to watch because it has a compelling technology, and because its offerings appeal to companies that don’t have a Cisco-sized budget. (And to companies that do, but would prefer to save the money for other things, like salaries.) We also like Vyatta because it commoditizes network deployment in the same way that Linux commoditized the operating system market.

Last year we tapped Zimbra as one of the Top 20 companies to watch, and that proved to be sage advice — Yahoo! acquired the company midway through 2007 for a staggering $350 million. Pretty nifty for company that made its public debut in October of 2005. We’re not quite sure how Yahoo! will integrate Zimbra’s technology into its portfolio, but we’re pretty sure that the company didn’t spend $350m to let the open source groupware go stale. It’s encouraging that, upon acquisition, Yahoo! didn’t board up the source code and make Zimbra a proprietary product. Yahoo! has also been a supporter of open source projects for some time, and has open sourced a bit of its own tools as well.

Technically, the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) isn’t a company, so it doesn’t quite qualify for the list. However, if there’s one entity that’s going to be crucial for open source adoption in 2008, it’s the SFLC. The SFLC, and its Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC), are dedicated to supporting FOSS projects need legal, financial, and administrative assistance– all the stuff that developers aren’t particularly good at. In 2007 the SLFC filed infringement lawsuits on behalf of the BusyBox developers, helped guide the GPLv3 process to completion, and helped review Linux wireless code to clarify a sticky licensing situation. Look for the organization to have even more influence in 2008. The SFC also provides crucial services for projects, including BusyBox, Inkscape, Mercurial, Samba, and Wine. We expect the conservancy to continue to expand and serve even more projects in 2008.

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