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The 8 most successful open source products ever

Open source in itself is a success story. From being a niche concept, it has become a mainstream movement (well, more or less) and has received the attention of both individuals and businesses worldwide.
There are thousands of open source projects and products out there, but which ones are the most successful? By successful we mean widely used and widely known. While there are many successful open source products, a few stand head and shoulders above the rest. We have listed them here below.


Why it is a success: Linux, hand in hand with GNU software as GNU/Linux, has come a long way since Linus Torvalds announced that he was creating an OS kernel based on Minix back in 1991. These days, a majority of web servers run Linux, and with Ubuntu (see below) it is also (finally) starting to make inroads into the desktop market, and maybe it will soon also be strong player in the mobile market with Android (which uses the Linux kernel).


Why it is a success: Launched in 2004, Ubuntu is by far the most popular Linux distribution today, especially on the desktop side. Considering the massive success of Ubuntu in recent years, we thought it was worth its own mention here even though we already mentioned Linux.


Why it is a success: FreeBSD, OpenBSD and NetBSD have been well-respected server OS alternatives for a long time. Derived from Berkeley Unix in the 1990s, we chose to put them into one group here. As an interesting aside, the core for Apple’s Mac OS X is derived from FreeBSD.


Why it is a success: MySQL is the most widely used database server in the world, used by a huge amount of websites and services (examples include Wikipedia, Facebook and, more modestly, our very own…). It’s the M in the hugely popular LAMP stack (Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP).


Why it is a success: The Apache HTTP Server has been the most popular web server software in the world since 1996, which is also the year it got started. Apache still has a strong lead, outclassing second runner up IIS in terms of number of deployed websites (according to Netcraft, Apache is currently used by 46% of all websites, while IIS is used by 29%). In 2009 it passed a huge milestone, becoming the first web server to be used by more than 100 million websites.


Why it is a success: Mozilla’s crowning achievement so far, the Firefox web browser has become a mega success. Firefox 1.0 was launched in 2004 and the browser has since then taken away a huge chunk of the browser market from the previously dominant Internet Explorer, and is arguably the reason that Microsoft started to put more effort into updating IE with new versions. Although Firefox is still number two overall, it has become the dominant browser among the more “techie” crowd (this blog, for example, gets 59% of its visits from Firefox and just 18% from IE).


Why it is a success: Since its launch in 2004 as a fork of the b2 blog software, WordPress has become a dominant and hugely popular blog platform. In a survey we made back in January, 27% of the top 100 blogs ran on WordPress. If you also counted, Automattic’s hosted WordPress service, that number rose to 32%, more than any other blog software. Since then there have also been some changes, such as the nine Wired blogs in the top 100 switching from Typepad to, so that percentage is likely significantly higher now (all else unchanged, it would be 41%).


Why it is a success: BIND (The Berkeley Internet Name Domain Server) is the most widely used DNS server software on the Internet. The first version of BIND goes all the way back to the early 1980s and has been the main DNS server on UNIX systems ever since. It can justly be called the world’s de facto standard DNS server.

Open source is everywhere on the Internet

It’s fascinating how pervasive these products actually are if you think about it. If you use the Internet at all, you will most likely run into all of these products every single day even if you’re not always aware of it. A majority of the websites you visit will use the Apache web server, your DNS lookups will be served by BIND servers, if you visit blogs at least some of them will run WordPress, both BSD and Linux are common operating systems for servers on the Internet, not to mention that MySQL is used by a huge amount of websites and all WordPress blogs. And there’s a good chance that you are now reading this in a Firefox web browser.

Agree, disagree? Let us know

Do you agree or disagree with this list? Did we leave something important out? Let us know what you think in the comments!
And here’s a bonus question for you: What’s the next big success story in open source?

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