December 28, 2011, 6:05 AM — Next year, if all goes according to plan, Red Hat will become the first open source software company to generate more than US$1 billion a year in revenue. It will be a watershed moment for the open source community, who have long seen their approach of community-based development as a viable, even superior, alternative to traditional notions of how software should be written.
"I think we're seeing a fundamental shift in where innovation happens, going from the labs of a few software companies to these massive open source efforts," said Jim Whitehurst, president and CEO of Red Hat.
Certainly, open source has left the proprietary software world in turmoil over the past few years, as Linux, the Apache Web server, Perl, Apache, Hadoop, OpenOffice, GIMP and dozens of other programs put the pinch on their commercial counterparts. But what are tomorrow's open source heavy hitters? Here are five projects to watch closely in 2012. They may form the basis for new businesses and new industries. Or they may just capture the minds of developers and administrators with some easier, or at least less expensive, way of getting the job done.
For the better part of the last decade, the choice for Web server software has been pretty stable. Apache has been used on the majority of Web servers while Microsoft's IIS (Internet Information Services) is used across many of the rest. Over the past few years, however, use of a third entrant, Nginx (pronounced "engine-x"), has been on the rise, thanks to the software's ability to easily handle high-volume traffic.
Nginx is already run on 50 million different Internet domains, or about 10 percent of the entire Internet, the developers of the software estimate. It is particularly widely used on highly trafficked Web sites, such as Facebook, Zappos, Groupon, Hulu, Dropbox, and WordPress. Not surprisingly, the software's creator, Igor Sysoev, designed Nginx in 2004 specifically to handle a large numbers of concurrent users -- up to 10,000 connections per server. "It is a very lean architecture," said Andrew Alexeev, a co-founder of a company that offers a commercial version of the software, called Nginx.
The upcoming year promises to be a good one for Nginx. Last year, Nginx got $3 million in backing from a number of venture capital firms, including one supported by Dell CEO Michael Dell. It partnered with Jet-Stream to provide Nginx for that software vendor's CDN (content delivery network) package. It also is working with Amazon to streamline Nginx for the AWS (Amazon Web Service) cloud service.