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Who's Writing Linux These Days? 63

Posted by timothy
from the thought-we-were-an-autonomous-collective dept.
cold fjord writes "IEEE Spectrum reports, "About once a year, the Linux Foundation analyzes the online repository that holds the source code of the kernel, or core, of the Linux operating system. As well as tracking the increasing complexity of the ever-evolving kernel over a series of releases from versions 3.0 to 3.10, the report also reveals who is contributing code, and the dominant role corporations now play in what began as an all-volunteer project in 1991. While volunteer contributors still represent a plurality among developers, over 80 percent of code is contributed by people who are paid for their work. ""
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Who's Writing Linux These Days?

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  • Patrons (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jones_supa (887896) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @01:02PM (#46150931)

    While volunteer contributors still represent a plurality among developers, over 80 percent of code is contributed by people who are paid for their work.

    This. I've said it before and will say it again. The open source projects with most bugs and slowest development time are the ones without proper sponsors. That's why I also use a lot of commercial closed-source software myself, but do not have any particular grudge against OSS either. Just pay the developers properly, because complex, properly quality-assured modern software is impossible without that.

    • Re:Patrons (Score:5, Informative)

      by RabidReindeer (2625839) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @01:08PM (#46151011)

      While volunteer contributors still represent a plurality among developers, over 80 percent of code is contributed by people who are paid for their work.

      This. I've said it before and will say it again. The open source projects with most bugs and slowest development time are the ones without proper sponsors. That's why I also use a lot of commercial closed-source software myself, but do not have any particular grudge against OSS either. Just pay the developers properly, because complex, properly quality-assured modern software is impossible without that.

      Before you get too comfortable with that assertion, recall that Linux Torvalds wasn't being paid to develop Linux in the beginning nor for long after. Nor were his earliest assistants.

      It's certainly easier to develop good-quality software if you aren't distracted by the need to earn a living doing something else, but it's not essential.

      • Re:Patrons (Score:4, Insightful)

        by JoeMerchant (803320) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @01:24PM (#46151177)

        There are many paths to not needing to earn a living - while 99% of the world may not have the luxury of "room and board, including broadband, covered without working for a paycheck" - that still leaves tens of millions who do.... now, whether or not these are the people you want developing your OS kernel is another question, but if you throw another 99% filter on them, there may still be thousands of people out there who have the means, ability and disposition to write high quality FOSS, and, thankfully, the internet has given them the means to collaborate.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by NatasRevol (731260)

        There's a saying.

        "He's the exception that proves the rule."

        • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

          by DaveV1.0 (203135)
          That saying does not mean what you think it means.
        • by http (589131)
          No, there isn't a saying.
          The tradition in law is that the existence of an exception may be used to infer a rule - e.g. "No Parking: 4pm - 6pm" means that parking IS permitted at other times. Mr. Torvalds may be considered unusual, but his efforts are not part of (or exception to) any rule I can think of, except maybe "being polite and rude consistently gest things done in the long term"
      • Before you get too comfortable with that assertion, recall that Linux Torvalds wasn't being paid to develop Linux in the beginning nor for long after. Nor were his earliest assistants.

        I'm still mostly comfortable with my assertion. :) I am talking about modern software, which is significantly more complex than early Linux [github.com]. Indeed, it is the complexity and lines of code which makes it day by day harder to make meaningful software without it being a full-time paid commitment.

        • Re:Patrons (Score:5, Interesting)

          by RabidReindeer (2625839) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @02:33PM (#46152355)

          Before you get too comfortable with that assertion, recall that Linux Torvalds wasn't being paid to develop Linux in the beginning nor for long after. Nor were his earliest assistants.

          I'm still mostly comfortable with my assertion. :) I am talking about modern software, which is significantly more complex than early Linux [github.com]. Indeed, it is the complexity and lines of code which makes it day by day harder to make meaningful software without it being a full-time paid commitment.

          I'm pretty sure that if software had gained some sort of magical properties in the last 30 years I'd have noticed it.

          Yes, the codebase contains more components than it used to - although having smarter and more standardized hardware has reduced the number of unique drivers. But Torvalds is still "Penguin-in-Chief". He just delegates a lot now since there are more components to ride herd on. And now it's his primary job.

          The fact that a lot of the components have full-time professional teams working on them is generally an indication that they can see a benefit from having control over an item on their personal agenda and on their own schedule instead of waiting for someone to come along on their own time and in their own way. Which is natural, since the essential systems were worked out 2 decades ago. Since then, we've seen the addition of virtualization support (in large part created by academic, rather than commercial developers), abstractions in block I/O, new network features and filesystems, clustering and other things that are typically of commercial interest.

          Along the way, a lot of these items were originally developed by unpaid developers who then leveraged what they had done into careers for themselves. Even Red Hat itself wasn't a major commercial endeavor at first.

          Not to say that IBM and Oracle haven't been major contributors, but Linux has many roots and many parts and they each have their own characteristics.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Well that was a long time ago, minux and the first Linux were way smaller. There is a quote from the mailing list that goes like this," i don't see any reason that linux would ever need to support anything but MFM hard drives. Linux is big now, with a lot of users, to keep achieve that linux needed paid support. Not every one has the luxury of living in a european welfare state and doesn't have to worry about things like paying for insurance, self and kids college, grad school. Most of us cant go directly

      • Re:Patrons (Score:5, Informative)

        by icebike (68054) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @04:40PM (#46154229)

        Before you get too comfortable with that assertion, recall that Linux Torvalds wasn't being paid to develop Linux in the beginning nor for long after. Nor were his earliest assistants.

        It's certainly easier to develop good-quality software if you aren't distracted by the need to earn a living doing something else, but it's not essential.

        Linux moved very slowly (Glacially) while Linus was working for a living and building linux evenings and weekends. He was still in the University at the time if the initial release in 1991. He graduated in 1996 and took work with Transmeta, (Crusoe) which lasted till 2003. Transmeta gave him wide scope to spend significant time on Linux on the company clock.

        From 2003 on, he has been essentially paid, allowed, and encouraged to work on Linux with a free hand.

        So he spent 8 years at University (interrupted by a year of military service). How those years were financed is not public knowledge, but I suspect his Parents and the Finnish government played a part.

        From graduation in 1997 on, he was on the payroll of companies that had the good sense to let him do pretty much as he wanted.

        And that's not unusual. A lot of these early contributors were in the employment of companies that allowed and encouraged them to work on linux. You need only dig through early archives to see the email addresses used.

      • by Kjella (173770)

        It's certainly easier to develop good-quality software if you aren't distracted by the need to earn a living doing something else, but it's not essential.

        And it's certainly easier to develop good-quality software if you aren't distracted by the need to earn a living off it, you're free to reject bad code or go back and refactor until you get it right no matter if it has a "business case" or not. And you're not going to get a CEO who's read too many trade magazines and wants to replace you with half a dozen Indians. I guess that's not true for "scratch an itch" projects but if it's your baby you don't want it to be just "good enough", you want it to living pr

        • by Pav (4298)
          Mod up... Part of what is so refreshing about F/OSS is that it's self directed by passionate people. There's something obviously wrong with the premise of the article. If patrons are the real source of vitality in Linux and F/OSS why are the most successful distros clustered around Debian and not Redhat?
    • I don't see how that follows. If you knew that sponsored open source projects were superior in quality to non sponsored open source projects, I don't see how that applies to non open sourced sponsored projects. It might, but its not a logical inference from the previous statement.

      • I don't see how that follows. If you knew that sponsored open source projects were superior in quality to non sponsored open source projects, I don't see how that applies to non open sourced sponsored projects.

        Closed source projects can simply directly sell their product.

        • And London is the Capitol of the UK. What does that have to do with software quality in closed source applications?

          Here are a few more random things that have nothing to do with what we are talking about, devoid of any context, in case someone else wants to see them.

          Trees are made out of wood.
          Bill Clinton didn't found Microsoft.
          ARM processors are more common in smartphones than MIPS processors.
          Debian supports multiple kernels, not just Liinux.
          Last year eneded on Dec 31st, 2013.

          • I hope I can make the links you need to see the logic that other posters have been attempting to convey.

            With non-sponsored open source software in most cases the developer is creating the software mostly for their own personal understanding of the concepts of software design or to develop their own personal tools for whatever other personal projects they are working on. At this level the software is unpolished, providing only enough of an interface for a single person to utilize. You can start to have oth

    • by Drew617 (3034513)

      But... corporations!

      Let me explain to you how this works: you see, the corporations finance Linux, and then Linux goes out... and the corporations sit there in their... in their corporation buildings, and... and, and see, they're all corporationy... and they make money.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Personal opinion, unrelated to my work:

      You said:

      1) " The open source projects with most bugs and slowest development time are the ones without proper sponsors.

      Hum, let's take that at face value, just for the sake of argumentation (I personally don't think so, but let's put that aside for the moment)

      2) "That's why I also use a lot of commercial closed-source software myself, but do not have any particular grudge against OSS either."

      2 does not follow 1.

      Open source with sponsors is better, you say. Closed-sour

    • Re:Patrons (Score:5, Funny)

      by Tough Love (215404) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @02:41PM (#46152513)

      The open source projects with most bugs and slowest development time are the ones without proper sponsors.

      I know, right? Take Samba for example... oh wait.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Tridge and Jeremy have been working on Samba for twenty years now. Which is a very long time.

        I remember hearing a story about how they went to a conference and they were so excited to meet the Microsoft SMB devs and ask them questions. But when they got there they found that the Microsoft devs had only been working there for a couple years so they were still newbies.

        And when they asked how many people work on SMB at Microsoft, they realized that the Samba team had more full time professional developers th

    • by 7-Vodka (195504)
      Sure, mod up the moron who doesn't know the difference between Free Software and open source.
  • Because if you ain't paid for it, you ain't nothing but an armature.

    • Because if you ain't paid for it, you ain't nothing but an armature.

      The subject is software, not electric motors.

      • There happens to be a fairly large amount of software used to control large synchronous machines. Heck, even on smaller scales a modern VSD probably has some form of basic embedded OS.

  • by jfdavis668 (1414919) on Tuesday February 04, 2014 @01:07PM (#46150991)
    The constant need for change and improvement are generated by companies making software and hardware for Linux. So they are motivated to extend it. There are no longer major pieces of the OS to develop. All that code developed by companies is then reviewed and tested by part timers, who don't get the credit they deserve.
    • All that code developed by companies is then reviewed and tested by part timers

      [[Citation Needed]]
       
      The linked article suggests the opposite and shows that signing off on code submissions is overwhelmingly corporate.

      • All that code developed by companies is then reviewed and tested by part timers

        [[Citation Needed]] The linked article suggests the opposite and shows that signing off on code submissions is overwhelmingly corporate.

        What, you don't browse the Linux repository's weekly commits every Saturday evening like me? People get paid for that?!

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Schedulers? File systems? Security? Buffer bloat? The Linux kernel is so far ahead that it's not even fun to compare it to proprietary OSs, yet it keeps improving.

  • Just curious. Does TFA, when ascribing contributions to "unknown," really mean "anonymous"? I can't imagine such a significant contribution by any truly "unknown." But why would a corporation or other non-governmental institution wish to be anonymous? On the other hand, I can imagine why certain government entities might. Rand(thoughts).
    • by NotBorg (829820)

      There are a number of developers for whom we were unable to determine a corporate affiliation; those are grouped under “unknown” in the table below. With few exceptions, all of the people in this category have contributed ten or fewer changes to the kernel over the past three years, yet the large number of these developers causes their total contribution to be quite high.

      The category “none,” instead, represents developers who are known to be doing this work on their own, with no fina

  • Who's writing Linux these days? One can only hope it's not the same people who are responsible for the abomination that is Slashdot Beta.

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