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Linux Business The Almighty Buck Linux

75% of Linux Code Now Written By Paid Developers 368

Posted by timothy
from the rest-kept-in-locked-cellar dept.
i_want_you_to_throw_ writes "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 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?'" It's not clear from the article why anyone should perceive a contradiction between having high ideals and getting paid to do something you enjoy.
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75% of Linux Code Now Written By Paid Developers

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  • by Laebshade (643478) <laebshade@gmail.com> on Thursday January 21, 2010 @07:02PM (#30853458)

    What's wrong with that?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 21, 2010 @07:04PM (#30853492)

    What's wrong with that?

    Except you're not the first, because that question is mentioned at the end of the summary.

  • by Rantastic (583764) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @07:07PM (#30853556) Journal

    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?'

    Since when does community == volunteers?

    That large, well funded corporations are now contributing members of the linux community is a Good Thing.

  • by RobotRunAmok (595286) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @07:07PM (#30853558)

    I rely upon Linux for my business. If something isn't all it should be, or developments don't happen as fast as they could, I'm gratified to know that money is changing hands and somebody might get canned and replaced by another, better professional.

    If Linux wants to sit at the adults' table -- and it clearly has the depth and breadth of functionality to do so -- then there needs to be the kind of professional accountability in its developers that only a paycheck can engender.

  • by Mr. Slippery (47854) <.ten.suomafni. .ta. .smt.> on Thursday January 21, 2010 @07:08PM (#30853564) Homepage

    There seems to be some assumption that "community" means "unpaid". Not at all. The Free Software community includes a whole lot of people who get paid to use software to meet the needs of employers. If meeting those needs involves improving bits of Free Software, the employer benefits from having those contributions integrated into the product.

  • by Meshach (578918) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @07:08PM (#30853572)

    How much does a line of code cost?

    Cost-per-line is a patently bad way to compute the worth of code or value of a coder. Knowing what to code is more important then just writing the code. Features implemented or bugs fixed is probably a better measure.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 21, 2010 @07:10PM (#30853596)

    Wait just a minute! You're saying that...

    Unemployed bearded GNU freaks sitting around at home playing World of Warcraft and taking bong hits who only add features and bug fixes to their open source projects when and if they personally feel like it

    are being left in the dust by

    Employed software engineers who work on their codebase eight hours a day 5 days a week with set goals and accountability.

    My god! Who didn't see that coming???

     

  • pay? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gbjbaanb (229885) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @07:13PM (#30853652)

    ...it's less a case of 'volunteers ahoy!' and more a case of 'where's my pay?'"

    I'd say its more a case of "I get paid to do this? who-hoo".

  • by CannonballHead (842625) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @07:20PM (#30853768)

    From most of the Linux advocates I hear commenting on slashdot, there AREN'T bugs or missing features in Linux. So why the developers? ;)

    No, I'm serious. You'd think Windows couldn't stand on its own legs for two minutes before crashing due to the amount of bugs in the code, and you'd think Linux had no bugs whatsoever.

    I like Linux and have no problem with devs getting paid to work on it. Sound slike a good idea to me; in fact, it sound slike how almost every single product in the world is made, pretty much. That has a user base over like 2. :)

  • by BitterOak (537666) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @07:22PM (#30853794)

    Since when does community == volunteers?

    That large, well funded corporations are now contributing members of the linux community is a Good Thing.

    Exactly! What's great about Linux is that it's free, not that its developers are unpaid!

  • What about Google? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by netcruiser (1645001) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @07:23PM (#30853808)
    So why isn't Google more involved in kernel development? I assume they use Linux extensively and hence make billions from using it. Do no evil, do no good?
  • by The_Wilschon (782534) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @07:30PM (#30853900) Homepage
    You might say that these companies have discovered that there is significant value (enough to pay some developers) in the existence/availability of good code, even if they do not derive any value from the sale of that code.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 21, 2010 @07:34PM (#30853970)

    Everyone agrees that there's nothing wrong with getting paid to develop the Linux code.

    However, what I do fear is, what will happen after Linus? I fear that the reason there's no clash between the different goals is because the people who are leading do a proper job of choosing what gets into the code. Hopefully someone with a proven history will be the current maintainer but, if for any reason, the wrong person takes the lead, kernel development would take a serious blow. Sure you can say 'fork it' but the truth is that this would create a mess, even if development is reorganized.

    It all boils down to the people who have the power, as anything else in the human world. Admitedly, given it's decentralized nature, Linux development is less at risk than propietary kernels of going in the wrong direction. But it could still happen.

  • by Anachragnome (1008495) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @07:34PM (#30853980)

    "Remember, these people are getting paid for their labor, not paid a million times over, every time a copy of the code is distributed."

    Now only if we could apply this concept to the music industry.

  • by Nadaka (224565) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @07:40PM (#30854046)

    You can. Go to your favorite bands next concert.

  • by Cryacin (657549) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @07:51PM (#30854176)
    Why should someone feel guilty about being paid for their efforts? Business is a not a bad thing in itself, as people who work do need to be compensated, that is unless if they are independantly wealthy.

    I have no issue whatsoever with a developer being compensated for their time, nor does it even raise an eyebrow for me.

    I think the ethical standard here is that Linux is open source. That is open for peer review, open for other developers to work further on the ideas and ideals. Too often do people confuse this sort of "free" with the other sort: Mana from heaven.

    Yes, you can download and install a linux copy for absolutely free, but thankfully, there is money to be made outside of just getting copies of bits and bytes to a PC. I do not think that there is anything wrong with that at all, and good on the highly intelligent and skilled developers of Linux saying "Where's my paycheck?"
  • by rtb61 (674572) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @07:56PM (#30854234) Homepage

    It is under the principle of better to pay a little bit more once, then paying over and over and over again and end up paying a whole lot more. Then there is also control, building of reputation and expertise. Not to mention to disruption of existing monopoly advantages.

    When code competes rather than marketing, you get better code and better applications, when marketing competes you just get bigger lies and endless pay for the privilege beta testing.

  • by Patch86 (1465427) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @08:11PM (#30854396)

    Value for money, my friend. My Windows and my Linux machines have, lets be honest, a relatively similar number of problems. Windows suffers from the most outright bugs, but then Linux can still sometimes throw a hardware or compatibility wobbly, and sometimes does suffer the occasional deeper problem.

    The difference is that one of them is distributed free over the internet, and the other cost me £150 and still delights in harassing how "genuine" I am every time I visit the developer's website.

    You tend to be far more forgiving when something is both free (beer) and, feels like it belongs to you instead of some distant oligarchy.

  • by Gerzel (240421) * <brollyferret@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Thursday January 21, 2010 @08:12PM (#30854412) Journal

    Free as in price and use. Since there are many many businesses that benefit greatly from Linux why is it so surprising that such businesses would pay to develop it further?

  • by horza (87255) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @08:16PM (#30854456) Homepage

    If Linux wants to sit at the adults' table -- and it clearly has the depth and breadth of functionality to do so -- then there needs to be the kind of professional accountability in its developers that only a paycheck can engender.

    Billions lost on failed UK IT projects by the 'adults' with developers receiving very fat paycheques shows it guarantees neither success of the project nor accountability within it.

    Phillip.

  • Re:Hmmm... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by horza (87255) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @08:33PM (#30854626) Homepage

    Sure, it's cool to be able to say that you're paid to work on the Linux kernel.

    Certainly is. I'd decided at the age of 8yrs old the first company I was going to work for was Acorn. And it was. My friend loves Linux and so picks jobs where he gets to play with top end Linux clusters. Previously at CERN and now a top Swiss bank. For a real techie the work is more important than the size of the pay cheque.

    But how many of that paid 75% would do it for free?

    Depends what the code being contributed is. IBM is porting Linux to its high-end mainframes, but your average enthusiast doesn't have a $1M mainframe in his basement and so no incentive to write Linux drivers for one. I bet a large % of the paid developers are contributing code that is pretty useless to the home desktop user.

    How many would have to do something else to put food on the table if there were not a corporation to pay them?

    Those working on the kernel are a tiny fraction of OS developers. Around 99% of us do something else to put food on the table.

    What I take away from this is the fact that the Linux "community" is dominated by corporations. In many cases (but not all), for-profit corporations, all trying to compete against several other for-profit corporations named Microsoft, Apple, Google, Oracle, etc.

    What I take away is that common sense is actually working. The Linux "massively scalable cloud community" and the Linux "big iron community" will be dominated by corporations. And maybe some of the contributions will trickle back and be useful to the rest of us. I can't see who is losing in that scenario.

    Phillip.

  • by shaitand (626655) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @08:37PM (#30854680) Journal

    A performance is labor, as opposed to selling millions of copies of a recorded album.

  • by Sir_Lewk (967686) <.sirlewk. .at. .gmail.com.> on Thursday January 21, 2010 @08:40PM (#30854722)

    Pretty sure you have your subjects mixed up. "There is no such thing as a free lunch" is an expression in physics.

  • by David Gerard (12369) <slashdot@@@davidgerard...co...uk> on Thursday January 21, 2010 @08:53PM (#30854850) Homepage

    In 2010 [newstechnica.com], Linux runs your television, microwave, toaster, car, camera, phone, garage door opener and dildo, but geeks still fail to comprehend why you want a Macintosh for the computer you actually use in front of you.

  • Re:pay? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by shaitand (626655) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @08:55PM (#30854864) Journal

    Red Hat has put some of the largest kernel contributors on the payroll, these guys were heavy lifters BEFORE they got paid. now they can do it full time.

  • by zzatz (965857) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @09:12PM (#30854996)

    That's the point - bypass the middleman's sales overhead and profit.

    On one hand, Company A buys software from Company B, indirectly funding the development of the software. If Company A wants changes or new features, they can beg and plead for them, and they might get them. Company A will indirectly pay for development at Company B whether or not they get the changes they want. Company B will then sell the software, possibly incorporating Company A's ideas and improvements, to all of Company A's competitors. Company B's customers pay the cost of the development, plus the cost of sales (marketing, commissions, etc.), plus a markup.

    On the other hand, Company A hires developers to improve software that others have made freely available. They get exactly the changes they want. Company A's competitors also get those changes, but the reverse is true: Company A gets Company C's improvements. Both companies find this agreeable because neither can gain an advantage through the software, and both have reduced the cost of developing it. Company A has cut out the middlemen, avoiding the cost of sales and profits extracted by Company B.

    You can't gain an advantage over your competition by buying your software from a third party, because your competitor can buy it, too. You can't gain an advantage over your competition by hiring developers to write open source software, because your competitor can dowload it, too. There's no difference between open source software and third party commercial closed source software as far as advantage over a competitor. The only way to use software as a competitive differentiator is to develop it internally, keep it closed, don't sell it, and pay the high cost of developing for a single customer - yourself.

    In economic terms, software is a complementary good. Intel sells processors, which are not useful without software. But every dollar spent on software is a dollar that isn't spent on processors. Red Hat is in a similar situation; they sell support, not software, and giving away software makes money available for support.

    The economics are simple. Any software that has a large enough base to support sales in binary form has a large enough base to support shared development under open source licenses with a lower overhead. Selling binaries is a temporary aberration caused by network effects during the initial growth of the market. As the market matures, sales of mass market software will decline.

  • by Zero__Kelvin (151819) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @09:30PM (#30855120) Homepage

    "If Linux wants to sit at the adults' table ..."

    Linux is the adults table. The adults all sit at it. You've heard of Google, IBM, Sun, Oracle, Novell?

  • by bug1 (96678) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @10:15PM (#30855440)

    It's not clear from the article why anyone should perceive a contradiction between having high ideals and getting paid to do something you enjoy.

    One day a situation will arise when you will be expected to do something you dont enjoy.

    You will choose between love and money, you will begin to discover how much your high ideals are worth.

  • by omb (759389) on Thursday January 21, 2010 @10:33PM (#30855576)
    Far too few, but there is a maximum scrum in the Cathedral.

    The question goes to the Cathedral and the Bazaar dichotomy and the Brooks "Mythical Man Month" about OS 360, and how you count the dev team, kernel core or that and associated userland.

    DEC: Tops 10 2 x lead + 6 mostly

    AT&T Bell Labs: 3 x lead + 20

    VAX-VMS: 1-2 lead + 40 (inc RSX-11 drivers)

    WNT+: initially 1-4 lead + 20, clone VMS

    Linux: initially 1 lead + 0, now 1 + 25 leads +4000

    The 4000 number says it all. Rob Gingell, who used to run SUN's Solaris operation understood, and used to say, If we SUN make life difficult for our users, by most often making SUN specific firmware and foobared drivers, our customers will loose trust, write their own, in Universities and wealthy companies, and after a year all this work at high priced lockins will just hurt us.

    He was right.

    Linux has > 10 X the developers working on Windoze, Solaris, the RT-OS's ... combined, and it shows more and more. Google is now the paren to two new, special purpose Linux Distros, Android & Chrome, whic as they mature, will continue to backfeed the community.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 21, 2010 @11:01PM (#30855774)

    It's more about SAVING money. Linux is free, so they don't have to pay royalties. And in comparison to server OS costs to those companies listed, what's the relative value of programmer salaries?

    I'm guessing not a whole lot...

  • by Blakey Rat (99501) on Friday January 22, 2010 @12:07AM (#30856190)

    Another big benefit is that you can pay people other than software developers to work on your project. For example, artists, designers, usability experts, technical writers, trainers/evangelism.

    All attempts to get people to donate those skills to open source projects (except perhaps evangelism) have pretty much failed.

    The problem with this story is while a lot of companies are working on Linux, none of them are focused on usability and none of them are focused on the desktop-- the thing Linux is worst at. Since all of these companies only use Linux on the server, they only pay for development efforts relevant to the server... which gives us the nice "Linux can run on a 1024-core computer, but it can't play a Flash movie without stuttering" problem. At this rate, it'll never improve.

  • by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Friday January 22, 2010 @12:26AM (#30856294)

    Ask me to design an operating system from the ground up, and I'll do it for free.
    Ask me to take my operating system and make it work for you, and support it for as long as you need, I'll tell you to pay me.

    That's the difference between programming for fun and programming for money, and that's why the GPL was a really good idea.

  • by ProfMobius (1313701) on Friday January 22, 2010 @02:40AM (#30856926)

    "Linux can run on a 1024-core computer, but it can't play a Flash movie without stuttering" problem. At this rate, it'll never improve.

    This have nothing to do with linux. If you have any complaint, post them to http://www.adobe.com/aboutadobe/contact.html [adobe.com] . People are working on providing an alternative to the closed source adobe flash libraries, but i guess it is quite hard since they are closed source to begin with... and since i posted this, i can't even moderate you as troll or ignorant...

  • by damburger (981828) on Friday January 22, 2010 @03:43AM (#30857216)
    Precisely. What this 75% represent is still voluntary contributions - its just voluntary contributions by businesses instead of individuals. It's actually a sign that the principles behind Linux are catching on; people who aren't coders are seeing the benefits of putting into the community, and are hiring people with the skills to do it on their behalf.
  • Trouble is, while this isn't Linux's fault it is Linux's problem.

    If basic software doesn't exist or work properly on Linux then people wont use it. If people don't use it then why is it in Adobe's or any else's interest to bother writing software that works for it?

  • by rastos1 (601318) on Friday January 22, 2010 @07:26AM (#30858056) Homepage

    WNT+: initially 1-4 lead + 20

    When you say that, you omitted all developers working for Intel, AMD, ATI, nVidia, 3com, Boradcom, ... that work on drivers. I would not be surprised if most of the 4000 developers of Linux knew only a few modules required for development of their favorite device driver.

  • by Blakey Rat (99501) on Friday January 22, 2010 @10:13AM (#30858920)

    Have you ever heard the phrase, "the buck stops here?" How about we stop passing the buck and get problems fixed? Note that in this case, "getting problems fixed" might actually involve leaving your basement and having to talk to actual human beings! Ick!

    I frankly don't give a shit whose fault it is.

    The sooner you figure that out, the sooner we might get a working Flash player.

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