Open source applications with sustainable business models

I think people should consider the number of open source projects that have become so successful that they have sustainable business models? Meaning they have foundations that support their development. I know of two

I use both on a daily basis, they are the only two I know capable of replacing and/or succeeding proprietary software. Any others in that category I missed?

These are just two products out of many others, for example

Apache (a variety of products)
Mongo DB

They all have a stable foundation and are easily replacing closed source applications. Apache is basically driving a huge amount of Internet websites and PostgreSQL is (with different names) the base of several Cloud database (like AWS, IBM or Google).

It’s worth saying that many of those OSS apps mentioned above are very old.

GIMP is 24 years old, but has only really been a viable replacement for Photoshop in a commercial environment for the last 10 years or so.

MuseScore is 11 years old, (or 13 if you count the pre-1.0 releases), and still has a way to go before it can be used commercially (yes, OK, there’s the Baerenreiter piano pieces) – the lack of Cues and Ossias is a major shortcoming.

Dorico is 5 years old, and is already gaining traction in commercial publishing houses. Lest we forget, many of its unique features were a Big Deal when they were released, like Condensing, Divisi, Flow Headings, etc.
There are of course things that Dorico still can’t do – cutaway scores being a notable example – but I’m sure that Dorico 5 will cause just as much of a sensation as MS4 is doing.


True, but they are heavily used in large organizations and actively developed. This was what I intended to say as a comment to the short list from Dan.

I’m not a professional composer, so my knowledge about music theory is limited to what I need for my freetime hobby (but learning fascinating things every day).

However, even with my limited knowledge I can see the advantages of Dorico and that is the reason I have a license and use it (instead of going with the free MuseScore package).

Gimp is out - doesn’t compare to photoshop for real work, others may disagree. But yeah web browsers and servers, but the others are free software components which isn’t what I meant. LibreOffice is good but I’m not sure it really can replace Office, but your mileage may vary.

But the point is of the thousands of free software projects over the decades only a handful made it to the big time. Does MuseScore have the ability to do that to? I think it’s doubtful, because musical scoring is such a niche area. Blender only made the bigtime because 3D is such a big deal now with the Metaverse and such, so they’re getting corporate funding pouring in.

In the DAW space, Ardour comes to mind:

There’s plenty of apps but back to OT - how many are so successful to achieve significant funding? Consider that a cheap software engineer is $100k/year including benefits, floorspace, support staff etc (it’s more like $200k here). Ten people is a typical team, that’s over a million a year. How many FOSS projects have that kind of funding? If they don’t then they have part time developers, which is fine but means you won’t see the level of release frequency and quality as you see - for example, with Dorico.

In MuseScore Pro, it seems one can buy a Beethoven’s concerto “officially approved” by the author. I’m not sure this type of customer is really a niche one. I live in a country where music is very seldom taught at school, but as far as I know there are several countries where at least basic alphabetization on music is at the basis of every citizen’s culture. “Pop” classical music should be attractive enough to make a sustainable business.


I think the cost-benefit analysis of an application might be more important than its objective quality, in terms of “sustainable business model”. For example, Gimp might not be good enough for a graphic designer, but might be perfectly fine for amateur photographers, small businesses with light marketing/PR needs, etc.


Hmmm… that’s a weird one. Is Linux commercially successful? Redhat’s Gnu/Linux was the first commercially successful distro I think (or maybe even Slackware?), and there is Android, but Linux itself? Linus works at the Linux foundation, which is more or less donation funded…

I guess the problem is defining commercial success for such projects. If you say “provide income to a small group of founders/key people’, then yeah, maybe. But that’s not a fair comparison to a business like Steinberg, where developers actually get paid…

RedHat Enterprise Server
Oracle Linux
SuSE Enterprise Server

These are all commercially available distros and then there are several freely available distros, like Fedora or OpenSuse.

Linux is just the kernel, not the distro. This kernel is the core of Android and an uncountable number of devices, such as routers, network devices, cameras, etc.

Linux itself is OpenSource and Linus Torvalds is the maintainer.

GNU/Linux is what really made Linux successful. GNU is underrated and overlooked part of it and hugely successful, but commercially?

Sorry, but GNU is not Linux.

Linux is the operating system kernel and has nothing to do with the collection of GNU tools. These tools are part of the distros, but not the kernel.

Richard Stallman never liked Linux, he was proposing GNU Hurd, which never made it.