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Money to Be Made in Free Software--2008's Bullish Open Source IPOs

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Fortune Magazine has published a list of hot IPOs for 2008. What's notable about the list is that four out of five of the highlighted companies have a significant investment in or are driven by open source related-products and services.

  • MySQL--MySQL is perhaps the best example of pervasive adoption of open source in the enterprise after Linux. After years of giving away millions of copies of software MySQL has built a thriving (and I suspect profitable) business. I had the opportunity to spend a few days with MySQL CEO, Marten Mickos last spring and I have the sense they are a class act from the top down. (Maybe there is a correlation between corporate character and financial success... at least I can hope.)
  • Ingres--Since being spun out of Computer Associates (CA) Ingres the database company has gotten new legs. I was surprised to see their revenues were approaching the $100 million mark (per the Fortune article). I also like their management team, Ingres SVP of Engineering, Emma McGrattan is a firecracker and I have had great interactions with many of their other execs. Unlike many open source projects Ingres (the database, not the company) has been around since the 1970s proven itself over the course of decades without an open source community. Should Ingress develop that muscle they should have a rosy future.
  • SugarCRM--I am a SugarCRM user and have used many of the proprietary alternatives (Seibel, Clarify, Salesforce.com, Onyx, etc.) my observation is that Sugar's got some big enterprise features at a small business price point. They also have a thriving community which is critical for someone who bases their business on open source, it's what gives them leverage and allows them to rapidly gain adoption, brand awareness, and ultimately financial success.
  • Parallels (formerly SWsoft)--SWsoft was probably best known for their Plesk Control panel used by hosting providers until they acquired Parallels and beat VMware to the virtualization punch on the fast growing Mac OS X desktop. They also launched an open source operating system level virtualization project, OpenVZ in fall of 2005 which has made steady progress. I would be interesting to see if they can be successful running second to VMware by carving out an appropriate niche.

Matt Aslett from the 451 Group has some additional analysis on the topic. For those of us that are in open source software this is a big deal. What will be an even greater proof point of our model will be their financial success once they trade in an open market. Either way it's an exciting time for open source software.

For more Mark Hinkle, visit his Socialized Software blog.

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