75% of Linux code now written by paid developers

In what should come as no surprise to those who have been watching, 75% of Linux code is now written by paid developers. From the article:

Forget lofty ideals about the open-source community: most Linux kernel code is written by paid developers at major corporations.

The Linux world makes much of its community roots, but when it comes to developing the kernel of the operating system, it’s less a case of “volunteers ahoy!” and more a case of “where’s my pay?”

During a presentation at Linux.conf.au 2010 in Wellington, LWN.net founder and kernel contributor Jonathan Corbet offered an analysis of the code contributed to the Linux kernel between December 24 2008 and January 10 2010. (The kernel serves as a basis from which individual distributions such as Ubuntu, Debian or Red Hat are developed, though these will often add or remove specific features.)

A massive amount of coding went on in that period: 2.8 million lines of code and 55,000 major changes were contributed to the kernel, which evolved from version 2.6.28 to 2.6.32 over that time. “The development process is clearly quite alive and quite active,” Corbet said, noting that this amount to more than 7,000 lines of code added every day.

I’ve seen this presentation (well, an earlier version of this presentation – I was not at Linux.conf.au) by Jonathan before and I think the article changes the tone of it in an unintended way (specifically the “Forget lofty ideals about the open-source community” bit). First, Open Source has never been about unpaid labor. The fact that people conflated the meaning of free in “Free Software” long ago is something we’re still dealing with today unfortunately. Next, we’re talking about 25% of 2.8 million lines of code that were contributed by volunteers in a roughly one year span. That’s 700,000 lines of code. It’s not just a matter of how much it would have cost a company to write those lines of code, either. How many bugs fixed in those lines would never met a companies threshold for needing to be fixed? How many features added by those lines would have never made it past a managers cost-benefits analysis? In closed source software, a single unaffiliated person with extra time and the appropriate skills is never able to commit code to address these issues. That’s one reason Open Source software has been so successful.

There another point in the presentation though:

“75% of the code comes from people paid to do it,” Corbet said.

Within that field, Red Hat topped that chart with 12%, followed by Inte (sic) with 8%, IBM and Novell with 6% each, and Oracle 3%. Despite the clear commercial rivalry between those players, central kernel development worked well, Corbet noted.

So the top 5 companies, many of them direct competitors contributed 35% of the code. Unlike in some other competitive landscapes, when it comes to OSS people and companies can all be part of the same community or ecosystem. Yes, Red Hat and Novell have marketing materials and presentations on why you should choose their commercial offering. At the code level however we are all working toward the same goal… realizing that a rising tide lifts all boats. We’ve learned how damaging a monopoly can be in the software world. Having multiple viable companies with Linux offerings based on the same kernel should be seen as a strength; as a way to limit vendor lock-in. We’re far from perfect in this community, but forgetting our “lofty goals” isn’t something I think we should do just yet ;)

–jeremy

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