August 18, 2017

If there’s one thing that makes Docker special today, it’s that the name of the project is the same as the name of the company. That’s a rare phenomenon in the open-source world. Here’s why it matters.

If you survey the open-source landscape today, you’ll notice that most open-source companies do not share the same name as the projects that drive their business.

Take Red Hat, for example. It makes most of its money by selling an enterprise operating system built primarily using the Linux kernel and GNU software. None of the upstream projects on which Red Hat depends is named Red Hat. Only the company has that name.

Similarly, lots of companies, from Mirantis to VMware, offer commercial distributions of OpenStack, the open-source platform for building clouds. Yet, none of these companies is called OpenStack Inc.

A third example: Canonical has become famous as the company doing the most to promote desktop Linux. But the operating system that drives its business is called Ubuntu Linux, not Canonical Linux.

Where you do find organizations whose names are the same as those of the projects with which they are associated, they are almost always non-commercial entities. The Linux Foundation promotes the Linux kernel and related software, but it does not sell it.

The point is this: Almost no companies in the open-source world today have the same name as the product they sell or distribute.

Historical Examples

That wasn’t always true, however. A decade ago, it was easier to find open-source companies whose names were the same as their projects.

One example that comes to mind is Mandriva Inc., which distributed Mandriva Linux (known as Mandrake until a comic book company bizarrely sued it). Mandriva Inc. and Mandriva Linux both went kaput in 2015.

Another is Corel, the Canadian company behind Corel Linux. The latter also has gone the way of the dodo bird.

Docker Inc. and Docker

Against this historical backdrop, Docker stands out for being one of the few companies today that make no nominal distinction between its corporate entity and the open-source project it sponsors.

What are the consequences? Above all, that there is always ambiguity when people talk about Docker. When you hear “Docker did this” or “Docker did that,” you don’t know if the talk is about Docker company executives or Docker developers.

The nominal overlap can also imply that Docker Inc. is the only company behind Docker development. That’s far from true. Lots of other companies, as well as independent hackers, work on Docker. (For a list of those companies, check out the useful data compiled in 2015 by Arun Gupta.)

Admittedly, when dotCloud changed its name to Docker Inc. in 2013, it was the only major contributor to Docker. It made more sense then to position Docker Inc. as the only company doing Docker. But the ecosystem is so much more diverse today. It’s worth wondering whether it wouldn’t make more sense to make the distinction between Docker-the-company and Docker-the-project less ambiguous.

Christopher Tozzi

Christopher Tozzi has covered technology and business news for nearly a decade, specializing in open source, containers, big data, networking and security. He is currently Senior Editor and DevOps Analyst with Fixate.io and Sweetcode.io.