Syed Balkhi (Founder of Awesome Motive) & Amanda Balkhi.
Looking at the media coverage of the exploits of X / Twitter, Facebook, Microsoft & Co, it’s easy to think that the internet is being controlled by a handful of corporations, all of which pursue profit before anything else.
However, there are numerous companies out there that support open-source software projects, which shape how all of us experience the internet. The code for these projects is freely accessible to anyone who’s interested in reading it. Or wants to contribute to the enormous and supportive communities that have grown around it.
Here are five prominent open-source companies, and the impact they have on the internet.
First off, there is Awesome Motive, a company that specializes in plugins for WordPress, an open-source content management system that powers 43% of websites worldwide. Plugins allow website owners to extend the functionalities of their site. If you’ve ever filled out a feedback form or seen a pop-up appear when you were about to leave a site, chances are, that was Awesome Motive at work.
The company’s portfolio includes some of the most-installed and best-reviewed plugins on WordPress, including OptinMonster, MonsterInsights, WPForms, AIOSEO, and WPCode. All of these are open-source software (OSS), so that anyone in the WordPress community can extend and improve them.
The company has its origins back in 2009, when CEO Syed Balkhi started WPBeginner, a blog that is now the largest resource of freely accessible WordPress knowledge worldwide. Its headquarters are in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, but its fully remote team can boast over 400 members in 50 countries.
In addition to developing its own software, Awesome Motive also has full-time staff dedicated to various OSS projects, among them WordPress itself. They also support FOSS projects like Lets Encrypt through financial contributions.
Speaking of WordPress, next up is Automattic, which was started in 2003 by Matt Mullenweg. Today, it has over 2000 staff in 100 countries across the world.
Its main open-source project? WordPress itself.
Automattic manages WordPress.com, a WordPress hosting provider, as well as other projects including WooCommerce, Akismet spam protection, the Gravatar avatar service, and many WordPress plugins, such as JetPack.
Plus, Automattic also has its fingers in the social media pie, running Longreads, The Atavist, and Tumblr.
Important to note: WordPress, the software, is technically a separate project, but Automattic has committed to spending 5% of its resources on it, and Mullenweg is also its lead developer.
Red Hat, Inc.
Another major open source company that shapes how we experience the internet is Red Hat, Inc., which was founded in 1995 by Marc Ewing and Bob Young. Today, its CEO is Matt Hicks, and it's actually a subsidiary of IBM, which acquired the company in 2019. Red Hat has over 19,000 employees worldwide.
Red Hat’s biggest contribution to the open source movement came in 2002, when it launched Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL). This service consists of a distribution of the open-source Linux operating system, and, crucially, enterprise support for it.
RHEL is based on Fedora Linux, to which the company also contributes heavily. Red Hat Inc. has boosted both the open-source vision as a whole by pushing Linux, as well as its adoption for modern cloud computing. The latter it accomplished through Kernel-based Virtual Machines (KVM), which allow Linux to run the virtual machines that cloud infrastructure depends on, and OpenShift, which is Red Hat’s own cloud computing platform as-a-service.
As such, the company indirectly powers a lot of the software infrastructure of the modern web.
Red Hat is also a major sponsor of the Apache Software Foundation, a nonprofit that supports a variety of open-source software projects.
Yes, Google itself is not an open source company as a whole. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy because so much of the global interaction with the internet happens through Google projects that are, in fact, open-source.
Founded in 1998 by Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google is the standard search engine on the internet. With over 150,000 staff worldwide, it’s easily the largest company on this list.
Overall, Google can boast over 2,000 open-source projects it has either released itself or contributed to. Plus, among corporations, it’s one of the most vocal users and supporters of open-source software. For example, in 2016, it ranked fifth among the companies with the largest percentage of GitHub users among its staff.
Some of its most well-known open-source projects include Android, Chromium – which underlies Chrome – Dart, Go, Kubernetes, and TensorFlow. Like Red Hat, it also contributes to the Apache Software Foundation.
Finally, no list of open-source companies would be complete without Mozilla. In fact, Mozilla itself is a community, which is supported by the non-profit Mozilla foundation as well as the Mozilla corporation, its tax-paying subsidiary.
Open source software offers immense potential for aspiring tech experts and entrepreneurs. As the companies above show, the community behind open source projects can power business developments and democratize access to the technology underlying the web.
Next time you open Chrome on your Android phone and see a pop-up appear on a website that’s probably built using WordPress, take a moment to appreciate just strongly your internet experience depends on open source software.