From Evil to Good: List of Formerly Closed-source Software

Increasing number of software applications are going the free and open source way these days. Looks like more and more software companies and developers have seen the barriers of closed-source programs and have now fully realized the significance of freedom.

Here are some of the most notable software packages that were published under a proprietary software license but later released as free and open source software. Note that some of the programs from this list are still published commercially alongside their free and open source version.

Adobe Flex

Adobe Flex is a collection of technologies released by Adobe Systems for the development and deployment of cross platform, rich Internet applications based on the proprietary Adobe Flash platform. The initial release in March 2004 by Macromedia included a software development kit, an IDE, and a J2EE integration application known as Flex Data Services.

Adobe Flex was relicensed in 2007 under Mozilla Public License.

Apache Derby

Apache Derby is a Java relational database management system that can be embedded in Java programs and used for online transaction processing. It has a 2 MB disk-space footprint.

It was released as free and open-source software by IBM in 2004 and donated to the Apache Software Foundation.

Bitstream Vera
Bitstream Vera is a typeface (font) with a liberal license. It was designed by Jim Lyles from Bitstream, and is closely based on Bitstream's Prima, for which Lyles was also responsible. It is a TrueType font with full hinting instructions, which improve its rendering quality on low-resolution devices such as computer monitors. The font has also been repackaged as a Type 1 PostScript font for LaTeX users, and is called Bera.

It was relicensed in 2003 through the efforts of Bitstream and the GNOME Foundation.

Blender is a 3D animation program which can be used for modeling, UV unwrapping, texturing, rigging, skinning, animating, rendering, particle and other simulations, non-linear editing, compositing, and creating interactive 3D applications.

Released in 1996 as proprietary, it was relicensed under GNU General Public License (GPL) in 2003.

Duke Nukem
Duke Nukem 3D is a first-person shooter computer game developed by 3D Realms and published by Apogee Software. It was released on January 29, 1996. Duke Nukem 3D features the adventures of Duke Nukem, a character that had previously appeared in the platform games Duke Nukem and Duke Nukem II which were also published by Apogee.

Duke Nukem 3D was relicensed under GPL in 2003.

Doom is a 1993 computer game by id Software that is a landmark title in the first-person shooter genre, and in first person gaming in general. It is widely recognized for pioneering immersive 3D graphics, networked multiplayer gaming on the PC platform, and support for custom expansions (WADs).

Doom's source code was originally released under a restrictive license in 1997, but was later relicensed under GPL in 1999.

Netscape Navigator
Netscape Navigator, also known as Netscape, was once a proprietary web browser that was popular during the 1990s. Once the flagship product of Netscape Communications Corporation and the dominant browser in usage share, its user base had almost completely evaporated by 2002, partly due to the inclusion of Microsoft's Internet Explorer web browser with the Windows operating system, but also due to lack of significant innovation after the late 1990s.

Netscape Navigator was later open-sourced in 1998 under Mozilla Public License.

id Tech
id Tech 2 and id Tech 3, formerly known as Quake II engine and Quake III Arena are game engines developed by id Software for use in their games, most notably the first-person shooter game Quake . Since its release, id Tech has been licensed for use in several other games.

id Tech 2 and id Tech 3 were relicensed in 2001 and 2005 respectively. They are both under GNU General Public License.

Java is a programming language originally developed by Sun Microsystems and released in 1995 as a core component of Sun's Java platform. The language derives much of its syntax from C and C++ but has a simpler object model and fewer low-level facilities. Java applications are typically compiled to bytecode which can run on any Java virtual machine (JVM) regardless of computer architecture.

On 13 November 2006, Sun Microsystems released much of Java as free software under the terms of the GNU General Public License (GPL). On 8 May 2007 Sun finished the process, making all of Java's core code free and open source, aside from a small portion of code to which Sun did not hold the copyright.

Movable Type
Movable Type is a weblog publishing system developed by the company Six Apart. It was publicly announced on 3 September 2001, and version 1.0 was publicly released on 8 October 2001.

On 12 December 2007, Movable Type was relicensed as free software, under the GNU General Public License.

Qt is a cross-platform application development framework, widely used for the development of GUI programs (in which case it is known as a Widget toolkit), and also used for developing non-GUI programs such as console tools and servers. Qt is most notably used in KDE, the web browser Opera, Google Earth, Skype, Qtopia, Photoshop Elements and OPIE.

Released in 1991, Qt was relicensed in 1999 under Q Public License (QPL).

Open Sound System
The Open Sound System (OSS) is a standard interface for making and capturing sound in Unix operating systems. It is based on standard Unix devices. The term also refers sometimes to the software in a Unix kernel that provides the OSS interface; in that sense it can be thought of as a device driver or collection of device drivers for sound controller hardware. The goal of OSS is to allow one to write a sound-based application program that works with any sound controller hardware, even though the hardware interface varies greatly from one type to another.

In July 2007, 4Front Technologies released sources for OSS under Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL) for OpenSolaris and GPL for Linux. In January 2008, 4Front Technologies released OSS for FreeBSD (and other BSD systems) under BSD License.

Second Life

Second Life (abbreviated as SL) is an Internet-based virtual world launched in 2003, developed by Linden Research, Inc (commonly referred to as Linden Lab), which came to international attention via mainstream news media in late 2006 and early 2007.[4][5] A downloadable client program called the Second Life Viewer enables its users, called "Residents", to interact with each other through motional avatars, providing an advanced level of a social network service combined with general aspects of a metaverse. Residents can explore, meet other Residents, socialize, participate in individual and group activities, create and trade items (virtual property) and services from one another.

Second Life started as proprietary software in 2003, but was relicensed under GPL v2 in 2007.


SimCity is a city-building simulation game, first released in 1989 and designed by Will Wright. SimCity was Maxis' first product, which has since been ported into various personal computers and game consoles, and enhanced into several different versions including SimCity 2000 in 1993, SimCity 3000 in 1999, SimCity 4 in 2003, and SimCity DS & SimCity Societies in 2007. The original SimCity was later renamed SimCity Classic. Until the release of The Sims in 2000, the SimCity series was the best-selling line of computer games made by Maxis.

On January 10 2008 the SimCity source code was released under the free software GPL 3 license. The release of the source code was related to the donation of SimCity software to the One Laptop Per Child laptop, as one of the principles of the OLPC laptop is the use of free and open source software.


The Solaris Operating System, usually known simply as Solaris, is a free Unix-based operating system introduced by Sun Microsystems in 1992 as the successor to SunOS.

Solaris is certified against the Single Unix Specification. Although it was historically developed as proprietary software, a majority of its codebase is now open source software as OpenSolaris.

Watcom C compiler
The Watcom C/C++ compiler is esteemed amongst DOS developers by the high execution speed of the compiled code it produces and for having been one of the first compilers to support the Intel 80386 "protected mode". In the mid-1990s, some of the most technically ambitious DOS games such as Doom and Duke Nukem 3D were built using Watcom C.

The Free version was released as OpenWatcom in 2003.


  1. This goes to show that open source is the only way to do software. There will be more converts to come this 2008 I'm sure.

  2. Warzone 2100 is free software that was formely proprietary.

  3. It seems to me that, unfortunately, most software on this list is either obsolete, a niche product, or meant to promote another, closed, piece of software.

  4. The Second Life client may have been open-sourced, but their server is still closed source. Though there is lots of movement in the OpenSim project ( toward an open-source server.

  5. This list is missing VirtualBox and OpenOffice, to name a few.

  6. What about RealPlayer/Helix Player? These were previously entirely proprietary, until RealNetworks released a large chunk of the source code (along with source code for streaming media servers) under a choice of open source licenses.

  7. Java is not fully OpenSource.

    javac is under GPL, but right now you can not compile JDK from GPL sources.

    Sun says that JDK will be under GPL togehter with Java 7 release. So proper dates is from 2006 to 2008 (?)

  8. virtualbox, kqemu, vmware tools, astromenace, webkit, openoffice, komodoedit, qnx, cuneiform, tesseract, ingres db,YaST, Hula, Firebird, Eclipse

  9. This trend shows that the "open-source" is future of software industry!

  10. you forgot FreeSpace 2 which was released as basically open source by Volition Inc before it closed down. They also gave out the cinematics and everything.

  11. Qt is now licensed under the GNU GPL for all platforms.

  12. Second Life is not open source. Only the client is.

  13. I think you hit the nail right on the head dude!


  14. Qt under GPL since a long time, and switched to GPLv3 this year.

  15. Yes, Freespace 2 was open sourced, and became Freespace 2 Open, one of the finest space flight combat sims (action games) available, and with gorgeous visuals!

  16. Ugh. More comment spam for '' - this is starting to get really annoying.

  17. You did not include Ingres

  18. Second life has no place here. If it depends on closed source then it is closed source. The rest is just marketing fireworks

  19. How About Ur-Quan Masters?

  20. Well, I wouldn't say they were evil, but probably clueless before the transition.

  21. some civility would be appropriate