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?


  1. Good list! I love Firefox to death so it deserves its place here, though BSD and BIND have more of a legacy. 🙂

  2. I would think Drupal would come before WordPress for CRM.

    Otherwise, I agree with most of the list and cannot think of any technology that is missing, offhand.

  3. What about SendMail? Or PHP? Or Joomla? It would be easy to argue that Joomla is one of the most successful as it successfully split and created it’s own brand…

    And what about Azureus? 450 million+ downloads can’t be wrong. And there is also the NullSoft Installer (NSIS), which has deployed copies in the hundreds of millions as well…

    This will be a never-ending argument as you don’t bother to state your criteria for success. You could argue that the most successful open source ever was the iPhone….


  4. How about gcc and perl and bourne shell and so many programmers tools that made all the above possible?

  5. Shouldn’t Gnu receive its own separate entry, and at the very top of the list, instead of being (sometimes) hyphenated with Linux per their annoying self-marketing droids?

    Certainly most of the developers I know are in awe of not only the sheer mass but high quality of the often highly complex apps under the Gnu umbrella, not only those usually bundled with Linux but many others. And they just carry on silently, keeping up the quality. Those involved deserve more visible respect from the rest of us, so I believe.

    That said, full agreement on all other items on the list.

  6. Im sorry but if you mention Ubuntu, you have to mention Red Hat which actually makes money at Linux (Mandriva is also a for profit company with stocks and so on but they have nowhere the succes of Red Hat).

    I get why you decided to add Ubuntu after you already said Linux, I dont even mind bubbly fanboism but Red Hat has been doing it longer, MAKING money and is a mainstay in the business world.

    But that’s not the point since distros are not different enough from each other to be able to differentiate each other (im running both mandriva and kubuntu with KDE4.2 this month and I dare you to tell me there is a difference between these two). Having mindshare/cool factor/great community does not make a product.
    Had you stuck with your original intention, it wouldnt have stood out like a sore thumb.
    As for the P in the LAMP stack which we all know, take your pick of the 3 P scripting languages people refer to: Perl, PHP or Python.

    Like the choice of adding a distro, the P question will give you multiple answers if you ask people.

    By the way, since I work in mixed environments, I would have to add Samba to this list.
    We live in a 90% Windows world, I have no idea what we’d do without Samba.

  7. And why not BusyBox? A core component of linux based embedded systems, eg home routers, media boxes etc. The number of installations must be huge.

  8. RR, nobody in Linux-land is insisting on the GNU/Linux nomenclature. It’s RMS that demands any reference to a Linux distribution be “GNU/Linux”. The “annoying self-marketing droids” come squarely from the GNU side of the slash.

  9. Of course, not much separates open source from open standards. By that measure, HTML deserves more than a passing mention.

  10. Slight but important correction to the Linux entry: Linux is _not_ “an OS kernel based on Minix”. Andrew Tannenbaum, author of Minix, specifically and vocally disowned any connection between Linux and Minix. See the archives for the Torvalds/Tannenbaum flamefest over kernel design.

    Linus Torvalds simply used a Minix system as an early compilation platform for his infant kernel. That no more makes Linux derived from Minux than Cisco’s IOS is derived from Solaris.

  11. I ba sically agree with the list, and although I am a Ubuntu user and fan for the desktop, I would leave Ubuntu off, and put Java on the list.

    Although Java did not start off as Open Source, it is now and there can be no argument that Java is the most used development and runtime software at the Enterprise level right down to the home user.

  12. Wow! So many highly deserving additional entries … I had no idea they mount up like that. I have to agree, it all goes to show that open source as a whole is doing wonderfully well. Well timed article, great comments.

  13. I have a hard time having Linux at the top, then two distros of it right underneath taking up slots for things like OpenOffice, PHP, Perl, Python, Mediawiki, or other things similar.

  14. Please donate your old boxes to a church-group or some needy student in these hard times! To comply with the law, and with Microsoft’s leasing policy, you can now replace Microsoft OS with the free (download from the net) Ubuntu OS, which can be set to erase the hard drive of all traces of the “illegal to give away ” Microsoft system and your private information, before donation! Now, explain to your lucky recipient that all the manuals they will ever need are available for free on the internet! Just ask for them in Google! OpenOffice, which is installed already is plenty adequate for homework assignments and with a little exploring, everything else can work well too! Happy computing!

  15. Linux is not Open Source Software, I’m sorry to tell you that but it is currently published under the GPLv2 ( ). This makes it Free Software as defined by the Free Software Foundation (Definition of Free Software: ;Free Software Foundation ). While I’m glad you are trying to make Linux look like Open Source it is not Open Source it is Free Software which is far less restrictive and not only a licensing agreement but a very ideology.

    As for this posting I’m happy that people do list these popular “Open Source” lists. But for BSD and BSD derivatives, the licenses are not always Open Source Software licenses, but sometimes Free Software Licenses.

  16. Regarding the comment by Tony O’Brian. I refer to the OS as GNU/Linux myself all the time. I have no problem recognizing the efforts of GNU, why do you? Agenda much?

    I agree with Joseph as well. Why do people have a problem with free software as opposed to open source?

  17. It would be interesting to read a follow-up post on what these “brands” actually did that enabled them to capture share and be successful.

    In the mobile space, the Symbian Foundation is taking the next great Open Source leap; can they be successful?

  18. Ummm…sendmail? It’s the open source system that for the first ten years of the internet’s rise in popularity allowed for the exchange of e-mail through three different generations of routing technologies and protocols. It made the exchange of e-mail between disparate proprietary systems possible that we take for granted today. Ever subsequent mail agent has been based on the basic architectural lessons of sendmail. How quickly people forget.

  19. Yeah, a bunch of free software dinosaurs.
    Curiosily, no DESKTOP manager (kde, gnome) in the list, LOL!

    horrible list.

  20. Where is the GNU C Compiler, the GCC?

    All those softwares where built using GCC and much other. Even the Apple Mac OS X is compiled using the GCC package of compilers (Objective C, C, C++, etc.)

  21. I would not have broken out a specific distro. If I had, I would agree that it would have to be Redhat.

    As for the technicalities surrounding different licenses, it really doesn’t matter to me. Just give me the source code!

    Good list and good comments!

  22. I think Ubuntu start the revolution,If there is no ubuntu I would never try linux . worth mentioning ,
    “Ubuntu will always be free of charge, including enterprise releases and security updates”
    RedHat makes millions of dollars, WHILE ubuntu send you free CDs to your door steps.

    Long live Mark Live forever ubuntu!

  23. This is not a crap list or a horrible list and those who say so must have different requirements for their list. I would have listed things a little different and maybe added a couple but the list was good.

  24. #1 and #2
    Why 2 places for Linux kernel ?
    Why only 1 mention for only 1 dist ?
    Thus why 1 mention for 3 dists and 3 kernels ?

    I don’t understand the structure part of this article.
    Maybe arguments are too short.

    Shouldn’t you present:
    #1 Linux – (Gentoo, Debian, RH, Mandriva, ubuntoo)
    #2 BSD – {Free,Net,Open,Dragonfly,PC,Desktop}BSD

  25. Thank you everyone for all the comments so far. It’s pretty obvious that this is a dear topic to a lot of people out there and opinions on what should have been included varies a lot.

    One thing we’d like to point out is that this list isn’t sorted. So, Linux isn’t “at the top”. We just mentioned it first.

  26. “I think Gimp should be on here. It has been the alternative to Photoshop for people who are too cheap or too morally intact to pirate Photoshop for a really long time.”


    All great software. Really made me realise just how much stuff I use is “open source”. Also helps with piracy eh? No point pirating open source software.

    I’m currently working with WordPress for a client, for the first time. I’ve never been this impressed with an open source package, the flexibility, support and sheer number of plug-ins available make creating a quick CMS/blog easy.

  27. “Linux, hand in hand with GNU software as GNU/Linux, ”

    For Pete’s sake. Why are people even humoring Stallman on this? GNU is less than 5% of a Linux distribution, and it’s not even in kernel space. Call it Linux you morons.

    GNU is just a toolchain, nothing more and nothing less. It missed the boat on being an Operating System/System Distribution decades ago. No GNU kernel means NOT GNU.

    I, unlike Richard Stallman and his sycophants, know the difference between an operating system and a toolchain, as well as the difference between an operating system and a system distribution.

    An operating system is ONLY that software that directly, in kernel space, manages memory, hardware, processes, and resources. This is the kernel (Which I usually name the real operating system after, IE: Linux distributions have Linux, Windows has NT, etc.), kernel-mode drivers, and kernel modules. NOTHING else. Not the standard C library, not GRUB, not the GNU toolchain, Linux, drivers, modules. Period. As a *real* computer scientist, not a politician like RMS.

    A toolchain is just user-space system tools. USERSPACE. Meaning they have no direct part in the actual system itself, they have to make calls to the kernel and drivers to get work done. They’re tools, not the operating system. THIS is what GNU actually is.

    A system distribution is what marketers and idiots like Stallman call an operating system: The complete set of software that people will call Ubuntu or Windows or Mac OS X. RMS doesn’t lay claim here either, since the credit for a system distribution goes to its actual maker. Stallman didn’t create or make Ubuntu, Canonical did and they call it Ubuntu, thus, it is Ubuntu, not GNU/Linux.

  28. okay, there’s a lot of people who need schooling here
    and i guess i have to do it:
    *wordpress is blogging software (one of the first) and is not capariable to drupal. wordpress’s source is nicer too.
    *i agree that php should be on this list
    *how exactly the iPhone is opensource is beyond me
    *although gcc & perl, bash et al are all open source, they’re all attributed to the FSF and hence the GNU project, one project.
    (jean guy)
    *GNU should be the first and top of the list
    *the fact that redhat makes money doesn’t make “success” out of it. this is open source projects, not advertising campaigns.
    *ubuntu is FAR more sucessful than redhat, no matter how many redhat servers you put in our organization, home users barely know what redhat is; but ubuntu is well known by home users and non UNIX users everywhere.
    *xmind? are you serious? gtfo my internet!
    *if you mention busybox you’d better mention uclibc, and uclinux, of which there is more deployment than bb
    *JAVA!!! WTF??? GTFO my internet!!! JAVA ISN’T OPEN SOURCE
    *BIND isn’t a bad suggestion
    *Wikipedia itself isn’t an open soruce project, the opensource project is called wikimedia – not wikipedia, wikipedia is the APPLICATION of wikimedia.
    *Of course GNU want’s their say, GNU does all the userland utilities, Linux is ONLY the kernel
    *Open standards? gtfo my internet!
    *HTML is piss poor at best
    *true that linux was not derived from minix, but solaris to ios – but of a jump don’t ya think?
    *Java isn’t open source dummy!
    *MySQL is excellent
    *Samba is single handedly responsible for CIFS; so it should be listed
    *GTFO my internet
    *Learn about licencing before you try to sound cool on the internet
    *Linux IS opensource software, where opensource software is software that comes with it’s source and the freedom to modify and redistribute it, regardless of licence; of which there are literally 100s
    *OpenSource vs Free software is not up for debate. free software is cool, but NOT opensource and shouldn’t be considered opensource
    *ff and mysql’s umbrella corperation makes money the same way redhat does: support contracts, and advertsing campaigns
    *firebird database? wtf? gtfo my internet
    (andy M)
    *the first thing you think of when someone says opensource is drupal after ff? obviously you need more time on the internet, but someone should take your keyboard lest you spew your ignorance on the entire planet
    *fine! put sendmail, but you’d better put uucp because sendmail only worked locally until uucp (unix to unix copy) was invented.
    *yeah; x11 should be on here before kde or gnome
    *finally, openssh openssl are core technologies and should be added
    * Stallman inveted GNU, GNU is the stuff that runs on linux, that’s right cp, ls, cd, tar, mv, all those little commands aren’t LINUX they’re GNU utilities douchebag
    * Linux is a GNU kernel released under the GNU Licence that makes it gnu dummy

  29. I would put Debian on this list, and while Ubuntu is (deservedly) getting lots of press (full disclosure – I use Ubuntu on all my desktops), Debian has been instrumental in the Open Source world. Its free software guidelines became the basis for the Open Source Definition. Great list, though 🙂

  30. I would include Chrome/Chromium as well as Android. For sheer popularity they beat almost any other open source projects (although, collectively, all websites that depend upon apache are even more popular)

  31. Where is PHP. almost all of the sites you speak above run on php. Leave aside wordpress itself  being php application.

  32. Where is PHP. almost all of the sites you speak above run on php. Leave aside wordpress itself  being php application.

  33. I would guess that every project mentioned here now uses Git for version control.

    Almost every developer in the world uses it many times a day.

    Definitely belongs on this list.

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