With an estimated 43% of the GIS market share worldwide in 2018, Esri is by far the leader in the sector. The runner-up would only have around 11% by comparison. This domination has multiple factors behind it: first, the company is the true pioneer of modern GIS software, and some might say it invented it. It also consistently reinvested much of its revenue (close to 30%) into research and development. It has also successfully democratized its software suite at a time where personal computers have become increasingly powerful, and enough so to handle the heavy workload necessary to perform spatial analysis. Today, discrete graphical processors make a single workstation able to compute complex 3D animated scenes. This allowed to further expand the use of these tools, and more so with the advent of smartphones and online mapping. The company has a notoriously aggressive licensing strategy. A good example is how it ensures geography students have access to the full suite before requesting licensing fees once they graduate. By that time, many of them only are only proficient in ArcGIS.
All this is not to say that Esri poses a risk as a corporate trust (yet). The company is 100% privately owned by none other than its founder, and it built a reputation of never requiring financing from venture capitalists and other exotic financiers. Aside from that, the GIS market has been in constant growth, meaning all of the major software have benefited from an expanding user base. Many compare Esri’s success to that of Microsoft, in a way that the Windows operating system has become a standard in itself. However, with the advent of free and freemium models, and the untapped potential of open-source, we must wait and see how things will evolve on the long run, and whether or not the mastodon might one be seriously be challenged.