Whenever we talk about “ethical investing”, the businesses that come to mind are typically the green ones that tend to prioritize environmental harmony and sustainability. Needless to say, ethics come in many forms, including the digital variety. The world of computing is a complex and vulnerable environment unto itself, and an increasingly indispensable one, as the COVID-19 pandemic has made all-too-obvious.
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In this respect, the accessibility of open-source software (OSS) — that is, software which makes its source code available to anyone for modification — has emerged as a key issue for the future of computing. Often associated with loose communities of voluntary developers rather than formal organizations, open-source principles champion “the wisdom of crowds” as drivers of innovation and growth. Big Tech has been taking notice, as IBM’s $34 billion acquisition of OSS pioneer Red Hat demonstrated last year.
As with IBM, the following companies are putting their weight behind open source software and culture, and doing so without snuffing out the collaborative, non-hierarchical ethos that made it so powerful in the first place.
Adobe (NASDAQ: ADBE) is celebrated for its industry-leading creativity software tools such as AfterEffects and Photoshop. These products, popularly sold as a “creative suite” bundle, not only represent the core of Adobe’s business (generating $7.7 billion in revenue in 2019, for example), but also deliver gross margins higher than 95%. The company has lately made forays into the growing field of cloud collaboration tools, including open-source software.
By its own admission, Adobe relies on so many open-source software projects to build its products and services that “it would be hard to count them all.” In return, the company has committed itself to open source initiatives. As well as hosting Open Source Summits designed to build a thriving culture around collaborative software, Adobe has also released tools targeted at open source developers, including its popular Brackets.io text editor.
A favorite among developers, Atlassian (NASDAQ: TEAM) is the Sydney, Australia-based company behind several popular enterprise software brands, including Jira, Trello, and Confluence. The company not only makes programmers’ working lives easier, but it contributes heavily to the open-source community that has arisen naturally around its core brands.
Over the past few years, Atlassian has endeared itself to investors as much as to developers. Since its 2015 IPO, the company has consistently beat year-on-year earnings estimates, and its shares have climbed steadily upward as a result. The trend appears to be continuing: in fiscal 2020, Atlassian generated $1.6 billion in revenue, a 33% jump on the year before. Perhaps the company’s most impressive metric, however, relates not to finance but to customer loyalty, namely its staggering 98% retention rate. Atlassian has managed to achieve what most tech startups can only dream of — making itself indispensable to its users.
Billing itself as “the enterprise data platform company”, Cloudera (NYSE: CLDR) specializes in software for cloud platforms and offers a wide range of products to its clients, including machine learning tools, data processing software, and analytics services. The company, renowned for its involvement in the open-source community, enjoyed a major boost in its public profile last year when it signed an exclusive big data partnership with IBM. Since then, Cloudera has built ever-stronger links with open source developers, especially through its Apache Hadoop project, pioneered by chief architect Doug Cutting.
Cloudera stock took a hit in September after the company revealed less-than-optimistic revenue growth projections for 2021, partly driven by coronavirus-related uncertainty. But there are plenty of reasons to be bullish on the company’s long-term prospects, chief among them its innovative cloud solutions. The company finalized a state-of-the-art data platform in August, which could help it establish itself as a major player in the big data space. Big data is expected to see its valuation climb from $140 billion to more than $260 billion within 5 years, so a bet on Cloudera is a bet on a market poised for major growth.
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