5 Reasons Why Commercial Software Companies Care About Open Source and Linux

When you think of Open Source software and Linux, you probably think of legions of independent developers and scruffy enthusiasts scattered across the globe - pounding out code and annihilating bugs with the words “Linux Forever” and a Penguin tattooed on their forearms.

Sure, those people exist, but they’re being crowded out by serious IT professionals dressed in business casual.

According to a recent report released by the Linux Foundation, large, multinational, for-profit organizations are contributing significant financial and human resources to the cause. Participants include household names like IBM, Samsung, Texas Instruments and, for the first time, Microsoft.

The obvious question is “Why?”

Why would companies focused on profit invest in free and open source software? What is there to be gained? The answers depend on which company you’re looking at.

Microsoft: If You Can’t Beat 'em, Join 'em

Microsoft once referred to Linux as a “cancer,” but in a complete reversal, last year it announced a four-year pact with the Suse Linux distribution. Due in part to widespread adoption of Linux server products coupled with increased usage of virtualization in large enterprises, Microsoft was forced to concede. Microsoft had to play nice with open source or risk losing customers.

IBM: A Matter of Dependence

The situation for IBM is a bit different. Though its reasons for liking Linux are also customer-driven, Big Blue's big issue is competition with Microsoft. Relying on a competitor - one that comes with a costly price tag for their customers - just doesn’t sit well. Investing in Linux allows IBM to provide low-cost solution alternatives across all product lines that also minimize or eliminate Microsoft’s involvement. That makes Linux a win-win for IBM.

Samsung: Healthy Competition

Just last month, Samsung pledged $500,000 a year to the Linux Foundation. The Korean behemoth joined six other companies with Platinum level memberships: IBM, Fujitsu, Intel, NEC, Qualcomm and Oracle. Many Samsung products, including televisions and appliances, already use Linux-based software. But Samsung is also in fierce competition with Apple in the mobile device space. And having more influence on Linux kernel development will give Samsung greater control over the development of a potential alternative to Google’s Android and Apple’s iOS - the Tizen mobile operating system.

Dell & Asus: Exploring New Markets

Computer manufacturers like Dell and Asus are joining Linux laptop manufacturer System 76 in producing notebooks and netbooks preinstalled not with Windows, but Linux. Asus recently announced a netbook powered by the latest Ubuntu release – 12.04. The company also released similar products specifically for the European market. Not to be outdone, Dell also released an Ubuntu laptop in India, where Ubuntu adoption grew more than 160% last year. The draw in these cases is clear: bust open new markets with lower-cost alternatives that make computing more accessible.

ARM Makers: Hardware Advancements

ARM processor technology - which promises improved performance with lower power requirements for mobile devices - is the source of the attraction for hardware vendors like Broadcom, Fujitsu, Nokia and Qualcomm.

Ironically, the huge variety of business cases for large commercial companies to support Linux adds up to a single, inarguable point: The Linux operating system is now fully embedded at the heart of both consumer and business systems. Since big vendors can’t ignore it, they have to come to terms with it one way or another. And the smarter ones are working on ways to actually use Linux to their advantage.