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Ballmer, trolls, and the next ten years

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The other way to cash in

Patents are not the only way people have tried to make money from Linux and FOSS during the last 10 years. The story of the 2000s was of people charging for services to support Linux and FOSS.

While projects and products saw growing numbers of downloads, the practice didn't necessarily translate into sales, and for some companies, this was a case of trying to find creative ways to close the stable door after the horse had bolted.

Linux companies - Red Hat and Novell in particular - fared well. In terms of downloads and cash, Red Hat came to dominate the last decade: Red Hat had 62 per cent of the business Linux market compared to SuSE, according to IDC.

And, because Linux was driving business applications, businesses were willing to pay the companies for support and services. Linux closed the 2000s on 12 per cent of the server operating system market based on revenue in the third - most recent - quarter of 2009 measured by IDC.

The only thing that separated Red Hat and SuSE were their individual performance. Red Hat performed relatively consistently with annual and quarterly growth, but while SuSE increased its market, Novell - its owner - was beset by losses and restructuring.

The picture was less clear cut on applications and middleware. JBoss application server and the MySQL database were two of the decade's biggest successes. This came by way of downloads and disruption rather than in terms of making money for the companies supporting them.

BEA gets JBossed

JBoss helped first to frustrate and then to undermine BEA's thousands-of-dollars per CPU price model by giving developers a free application server for development and rollout. It was partly responsible for dispatching BEA into the arms of Oracle when its management couldn't respond. Meanwhile, MySQL was a runaway success among web developers, used in conjunction with Linux, Apache, PHP, Perl, and Python (LAMP).

Red Hat spent $350m buying JBoss, but four years later, JBoss is making an estimated $100m a year. Meanwhile, in 2007 MySQL began throwing the kitchen sink at users in an attempt to make any money with the all-you-can-eat Enterprise Unlimited license priced $40,000 that came with 100 hours of free consultative" support plus monthly updates and service packs.

By November 2008, nine months after Sun closed its $1bn purchase of the database company, MySQL was growing - at 48 per cent a quarter that was faster than Sun's existing systems business - but it was still only pulling in $37m.

With a new decade here, the question is what's next for the new and existing crop of FOSS services companies like Alfresco, JasperSoft, Penthahlo, SugarCRM, and Lucid Imagination. Do they grow and expand as independent companies and start to challenge the top-tier IT vendors in their respective markets? Will they be bought? Will they finally call it a day due to lack of growth or the sheer hard work of trying to turn downloads into gold? In the case of the latter, it could be their venture capitalist backers who finally tire and move on.

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