• For-profit Freedom Forges

last modified June 11 by strypey


A few years ago, Loom.io was established to develop web-based, free code, decision-making software. Instead of following the for-benefit "Foundation" model that has been standard in free code development since the GNU Project and the Free Software Foundation, they set up as a worker-owned cooperative, employing paid staff who supervise and support each others' work in radically democratic way. Since then, I (Strypey) have become curious about how many software businesses are out there paying staff to develop code in the public interest, how they earn revenue, and how sustainable the different revenue models seem to be. There may be detailed lists out there already, but a web search didn't find them straight away, so I'm going to scratch this itch and see where it leads.

Some businesses develop free code software, and others resell it. Now, this isn't a clear division, because a lot of free code software is built from free code components built and maintained by others, and resellers often tweak the software they sell and send good quality bug reports and patches upstream. But it's still probably use to have two lists, businesses that mainly develop their own software (including offering a hosted service on top of it), and businesses that mainly resell software developed by others (including offering a hosted service on top of it). For example Automattic go in the first list, other companies that run commercial WordPress farms go in the second list, even if their engineers are contributors to WP as an open source project.

At some point, this various revenue models at work in this list will be analysed, and the list separated in categories. For now, I'm just collecting examples. See also the 2018 LibrePlanet talk by Denver Ginerich (JMP) about keeping free software sustainable, and the CreativeCommons book 'Made With CC', which examines various revenue models people have tried to make a living out of CC-licensed work, as a follow-up to the 'The Power of Open' (a set of case studies on organizations using CC in their work).

Primary Developers

  • Acquia - offer commercial hosting of Drupal, founded by Drupal creator Dries Buytaert.
  • Automattic - develop WordPress and offer commercial hosting for WordPress blogs.
  • BuckyBox - started as a proprietary SaaSS social enterprise, began releasing their source code in ? A member of the Enspiral network.
  • Collabora - significant contributors to LibreOffice, especially the online version. Revenue model is based on selling commercial hosting services for Collabora branded versions of LibreOffice desktop/ online to companies that can afford the extras.
  • CommitChange - develop Houdini Project, a fundraising and simple CRM for non-profits, and provide paid hosting for it
  • Dreamwidth - free code and user-respecting replacement for LiveJournal, based on pre-2008 LJ source code. They operate as a privately owned, limited liability company (Dreamwidth Studios, LLC) registered in Maryland, USA. "The site is 100% financed by paid accounts and other payments made through the Dreamwidth shop...".
  • Duraspace - stewards the development of institutional repository software (Fedora, DSpace, and Vivo) aimed at universities and other higher learning institutions. They offer hosted instances of the various projects they umbrella, as commercial services.
  • GitLab - a fully free code replacement for GH. Revenue is derived from commercial hosting of GitLab instances for companies that can afford the extras.
  • JMP - a fully free code service allowing a user with a web browser and an internet connection to communicate with people on landlines and cell phones.
  • Kaltura - a free code, online, video editing and hosting platform. Revenue is derived from commercial hosting of Kaltura instances, and integration work, including for educational institutions.
  • Kuali - a university administration platform, originally developed by a consortium of US institutions as a "community source" project
  • Loom.io (AGPLv3) - web-based, decision-making platform. Pricing is based on ability to pay, with one-on-one helpdesk and hosting extras offered for user organisations which can afford to pay.
  • MatterMost - free code replacement for Slack (see Slacking Off ). Revenue is derived from commercial hosting of MatterMost instances for companies that can afford the extras.
  • MySQL (GPL) - database often used in the late 90s and 2000s with PHP and Apache on a GNU-Linux server (commonly known as the "LAMP stack"). Their revenue model includes selling proprietary licenses for MySQL, allowing companies to pay money to opt out of the copyleft (or share-alike) conditions of the GPL. They were acquired by Sun Microsystems, then by Oracle. Would be good to figure out if this means if wasn't a sustainable business model, or was such a successful model these acquiring companies wanted in (or wanted to avoid paying the fee by owning the product).
  • OnlineGroups/ GroupServer (ZPLv2.1) - web-based email group hosting platform. Enterprise is sustained by commercial hosting, although selected not-for-profit projects are given gratis hosting, including the NZ Open Source Society, and CreativeCommons Aotearoa/ NZ.
  • ProcessMaker Inc. - Revenue is derived from commercial hosting of ProcessMaker instances for companies that can afford the extras.
  • Red Hat - sell service contracts to companies using their Red Hat Linux distribution on desktops or servers.
  • SilverStripe - develop the SilverStripe CMS, offer commercial services based around it to government and corporate clients.


Secondary Developers and Service Providers

  • Bootlin (formerly Free Electrons) - a company based on France who do engineering and training related to embedded Linux
  • Catalyst - a company based in Aotearoa (NZ) developing tech solutions for government and enterprise, often based on existing free code software. They also offer hosting with the CatalystCloud.
  • Collaborative Technology Alliance - an association of social enterprise groups producing free code apps, including many involved in Enspiral. Many of them could be added to the primary developers list.
  • Drupal support - companies offering commercial support for Drupal websites.
  • Enspiral - a multinational cooperation made up of smaller social enterprise tech companies, including Loomio and BuckyBox, many of which could be added to either the primary developers list or this one. Enspiral is commercial yet not-for-profit, simply provides services that allow small companies to gaining the benefits of pooling resources that can traditionally only be obtained by getting acquired or merging with a larger company, while remaining self-owned, and autonomous.
  • Koha support - companies offering commercial support for Koha in libraries.
  • Mahara support - companies offering commercial support for Mahara in educational institutions.
  • Moodle Parners - companies offering commercial support for Moodle in educational institutions.
  • Apero support - companies offering commercial support for Sakai and other Apero projects in educational institutions.
(Note: need to link all the names to the homepage of the relevant company or list of them)