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Major Open Source Projects: How much money do they actually make?
Comparing the revenue of some of the biggest names in Free & Open Source Software.
May 10, 2023
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Here's a seemingly simple question: Which Open Source projects and foundations bring in the most money?  And, as a follow on to that... which bring in the least?

GNOME?  KDE?  Mozilla?  Apache?  The Free Software Foundation?

There are a lot of big names in the open source world... but how much money do the most recognizable names in Free and Open Source Software actually earn in yearly revenue?

I wanted to know.  So I collected revenue details for 17 major open source foundations -- by digging through IRS filings, Annual Reports, and every other source of information I could get my hands on.

Then I stuck them in a spreadsheet and made some fancy-shmancy charts.

Some of the results were expected and obvious... others I found truly surprising.  Honestly, some of the results are a gosh darned travesty.

It's charting time!

Let's start by putting all of the open source foundations into a single chart, and sort them... in order.

Note: Some of these organizations had not yet published their fiscal numbers for 2022... thus I used 2021 numbers across the board.

Wow.

The immense revenues of Mozilla ($600 Million), The Linux Foundation ($177 Million), and Wikimedia Foundation ($162 Million) really skews the chart.

But that was to be expected.  We all knew that those three organizations brought in mega-bucks.

So let's get rid of those three completely and re-do the chart.

There we go.  That's actually somewhat readable now.

But... holy smokes.  I had no idea the Eclipse Foundation was that big.  Bigger than some of the biggest names in open source.

Let's go ahead and get rid of the Eclipse Foundation as well.  Really zero in on the projects that are big, big names in the world of Linux, BSD, and open source.

Note: I broke out Thunderbird (the email client) from Mozilla, even though it is technically part of Mozilla.  The Thunderbird project reports their revenue indipendently, so I thought it would be interesting to compary the donation revenue from a single application with some of the other foundations.

I find this chart absolutely wild.

Here are just a handful of observations based on the data above:

  • KDE and GNOME are among the major open source foundations with the smallest revenue.  Each barely earning enough to pay for a few full time employees.
  • The Software Freedom Conservancy (aka "SFC") brings in more revenue than The Free Software Foundation, Apache, and FreeBSD combined.  I knew that the SFC had been active in multiple legal matters, and aided several projects... but I had no idea that it was, in all reality, the largest foundation focused on supporting Free Software.
  • On that same topic... that also means that the Free Software Foundation is not the largest foundation focused on supporting and advocating for Free Software.  Huh!  Who knew?
  • The Open Source Initiative is bringing in close to half a million per year?  One has to ask... why?  What do they do that's worth almost as much as GNOME and KDE combined?
  • The Rust Foundation sure does bring in a lot of money.  Considering their recent objection to people using the word "Rust"... this raises a lot of questions about what their plans are and what they are using those dollars for.
  • Thunderbird brings in more revenue than Blender?  Wild!  I was not expecting that.
  • On that note... I see significant new features and updates happening with Blender regularly.  But not so much with Thunderbird.  Clearly Blender is better at using those funds for development than Thunderbird.
    • As a follow-on to that thought... Thunderbird Revenue jumped to over $6 million last year, in 2022 (the data for this chart is from 2021).  Do we really see $6 Million in improvements to Thunderbird every year?
  • Not to harp on Thunderbird... but more money goes to the Thunderbird Email Client than... GNOME, KDE, OpenBSD, and FreeBSD... combined.  And that's before that 2022 revenue jump.
  • FreeBSD brings in more than twice what OpenBSD does.

Overall, one thing that strikes me is how astoundingly little some pretty critical projects and foundations bring in.  Considering the prevalence of the GNOME desktop -- and usage by Red Hat, Canonical, SUSE, and so many others -- I would think it would be better funded than that.

While this data does not represent every project or foundation in the open source world... it is a solid cross sample.  And I found the results, at least in some cases, a bit... weird.

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What was the first PDA?
It wasn't the Palm Pilot. Nor the Newton. Let's keep going back to find the answer...

It’s always fun to look at who was the “first” to do something amazing.

Who made the first computer shell? Who was the first computer programmer? What was the first smartphone?

Today, let’s ask another simple question: What was the first PDA (Personal Digital Assistant)?

What (exactly) is a PDA?

To figure this out, first we need to clearly define what a PDA actually is. While most of us can identify a PDA using the tried and true “I know one when I see one” approach, for historical purposes… we need to be a little more scientific about it.

Here is the official, Lunduke Journal Approved (tm) definition of “PDA”.

PDA - [ pē′dē-ā ]

Short for personal digital assistant. A lightweight, handheld computer, which can fit in a large pocket, generally used for storing information such as addresses or schedules.

Using this definition means we can include many different form factors — including the classic “handheld, touchscreen” style (such as the Palm Pilots), as well as the “palmtops” (such as the HP LX or Jornadas).

They key is that it is “handheld”, “pocket sized”, and a “computer”. And, of course, it must “assist” the user in some way. Storing notes, contacts, or appointments. Running custom software. That sort of thing.

But, and here is a key bit, calculators don’t count. The PDA must be, first and foremost, a computer.

It came before the 1990s

Many people believe that the Palm Pilot was the first PDA. Arriving on the scene in 1996… it was, in fact, far from the first.

Others (including Time Magazine) proclaim the Apple Newton, released in 1992, to be the first PDA.

Also, wrong. The Tandy Zoomer beat the Apple Newton to market by quite a wide margin. Yet that device is also not the first PDA.

Fun Historical Side-Note: Even though the Apple Newton was not the first device of this type (not by a long-shot)… Apple has the distinction of having coined the term “Personal Digital Assistant.” Apple CEO, John Sculley, made the first public usage of the phrase during a January 7, 1992 presentation at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada.

1989’s Atari Portfolio? Surely that would be the first? It was made in the ‘80’s for Pete’s sake!

Nope. It wasn’t that one either.

Was it 1984’s Psion Organizer?

In 1984, the UK software company, Psion, made the jump into hand-held computers with the “Organizer”.

It had a distinctly “Calculator-like” look to it… but was most definitely a full computer.

The Psion Organizer from the November, 1984 issue of BYTE.

Note the full keyboard (with the letters laid out alphabetically instead of QWERTY). Even had a “Space” key.

The Organiser was powered by an HD6301X — an 8-Bit CPU that was a variant of the Motorola 6800 — clocking in at a whopping 0.9 MHz. Yes. Zero-point-9.

2KB of RAM, 4KB of ROM, and a single row (alpha-numeric) LCD.

Psion went so far as to declare the Organiser to be “The world’s first practical pocket computer.”

One extra cool bit: The Organiser had small memory cards — dubbed the “DATAPAKS” — which acted as removable storage.

These “DATAPAKS” were truly fascinating. They came in two versions — 8KB or 16KB — and were “Ultra-Violet-Erasable Programmable Read-Only Memory”. These cards were “write-once”. Meaning you could write data to the card… and then that data cannot be easily deleted.

Want to erase your DATAPAK and start it over from a clean slate? That’s where the “Ultra-Violet-Erasable” part comes in. You could take in your used DATAPAKS to a Psion dealers, who were supplied with an “ultra violet eraser”, and they could (effectively) wipe the data off your cards.

The 4KB of ROM on the Organizer did not include much in the way of any real operating system. Simply small applications (a clock, a calculator, and a flat database).

That said, additional software was sold on DATAPAKS — including a programming language known as “POPL”, and various math and finance tools written in the POPL language.

From the Psion Organiser brochure.

Impressive! Fascinating! Weird! And while it lacked some of the features of later PDAs… it definitely counts as one!

But… was it the first? Nope. Definitely not.

How about 1980’s Tandy Pocket Computer?

Let’s go all the way back to July of 1980.

Empire Strikes Back and Caddyshack were dominating the box office and Funkytown ruled the airwaves.

And a little company called Tandy released the TRS-80 Pocket Computer (also known as the “Sharp PC-1211”).

This little, hand-held beauty was powered by two 4-Bit CPUs (the SC43177 and the SC43178) clocking in at 256 kHz. That’s 1/4 of a MHz.

1.5KB of RAM. A 24 character LCD screen. A QWERTY keyboard plus a 10-key number pad. Full BASIC programming language, built-in. Which made it easy to make it do… just about whatever you wanted.

All with a battery life of between 200 and 300 hours. Seriously.

There was, however, no permanent form of memory storage. For that you needed to purchase a cassette interface (which was pretty common among various computers of the time).

Considering this beast came out in 1980, it is surprisingly svelte. Weighing only 6 ounces (roughly the weight of an iPhone) and — while not super tiny — it is small enough to fit in a large coat pocket. (You definitely won’t be putting the Pocket Computer in your jeans, however.)

Despite the limitations… it definitely qualifies as a PDA.

The Conclusion!

After careful consideration, The Lunduke Journal is prepared to declare a winner in our search for the world’s first PDA…

The Radio Shack / Tandy TRS-80 Pocket Computer.

It is, without question, the first computer to meet our definition of a “PDA”. And, besides that, it is simply a really cool little computer.

However…

Because the universe is never quite as cut and dried as we’d like it to be, what follows are a conclusive list of “firsts” within the PDA world.

  • The 1st PDA ever — 1980’s Tandy Pocket Computer

  • The 1st PDA with built-in long-term storage — 1984’s Psion Organiser

  • The 1st PDA that looked and acted like a modern PDA — 1992’s Tandy Zoomer

  • The 1st PDA to actually use the term “PDA” — 1992’s Apple Newton

  • The 1st PDA that was also a cell phone — 1994’s IBM Simon

There you go. Now, if you see someone say something like “the first PDA was the Apple Newton”… you can set them straight. (I’m looking at you, Time Magazine.)

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Every computer nerd.  Everywhere.

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February 21, 2024
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The Tandy Zoomer -- The x86 PDA before the Palm Pilot
A 1992 handheld, with multitasking, that could access AOL. Wild.

The 1996 release of the first Palm Pilot was, in the minds of many, the first truly successful launch of a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant). But the seeds of the Palm Pilot were planted several years earlier.

In fact the company behind the Palm Pilot, “Palm Computing Inc.”, was founded back in 1992 for the sole purpose of creating software for another just released PDA… the Tandy Zoomer.

The Tandy Zoomer

Also known as the “Tandy Z-PDA”, “Casio Z-7000”, and “AST GRiDpad” (all essentially the same hardware sold by different brands) was a truly groundbreaking — and fascinating — device.

Fun fact: The name “Zoomer” was used as a shortened, slang-y version of “consumer”. Get it? “Conzoomer”? Seriously. That’s the reason behind the name.

The Zoomer (aka “Z-PDA”) with the address book. Note that fields can be ASCII text or doodles.

Let's dive into the hardware, Operating System, and software stack... which directly led to the creation of the Palm Pilot.

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