Open Source Code Worth $5B


Back in 1976, Bill Gates published his “Open Letter to Hobbyists”, claiming that if software was freely shared it would prevent the writing of good software. He asked rhetorically, “Who can afford to do professional work for nothing? What hobbyist can put three man-years into programming, finding all bugs, documenting his product, and distribute it for free?” He presumed these were unanswerable questions, and both he and others based an industry on this assumption. Now, however, there are thousands of developers who are writing their own excellent code, and then giving it away. Gates was fundamentally wrong: sharing source code, and allowing others to extend it, is indeed a practical approach to developing large-scale systems – and its products can be more reliable.

Richard Stallman who had a totally different opinion, launched the GNU Project in September 1983 and was the pioneer of what we call copyleft (a play on the word copyright) is the practice of offering people the right to freely distribute copies and modified versions of a work with the stipulation that the same rights be preserved in derivative works down the line.

Later on, in 1991, Linux Torvalds chose to use one of these permissive free software licences (GNU General Public License or GPL) for his new hobby project.

Fast forward today, after more than 25 years, The Linux Foundation, a foundation built in 2007 around Linus’s project (the Linux kernel), and derivatives, estimates that more than 500 companies and thousands of developers from around the world contribute to these open source software projects.

For example only Red Hat Linux 7.1 includes over 30 million physical source lines of code (SLOC), compared to well over 17 million SLOC in version 6.2 (which had been released about one year earlier). Using the COCOMO cost model, this system is estimated to have required about 8,000 person-years of development time (as compared to 4,500 person-years to develop version 6.2).

Here are some key findings from the white paper that the Linux Foundation released at the end of September 2015 (source):

  • The total lines of source code present today in Linux Foundation’s Collaborative Projects are 115,013,302.
  • The estimated, total amount of effort required to retrace the steps of collaborative development for these projects is 41,192.25 person years.
  • In other words, it would take 1,356 developers 30 years to recreate the code bases present in Linux Foundation’s current Collaborative Projects.
  • The total economic value of this work is estimated to be more than $5 billion dollars.

Linux conquered the world without anyone noticing. And is all because of using the power of many. Even Microsoft, Bill Gates gigantic corporation “loves” linux. It’s a hate/love relationship spanning decades, but they are not ignoring it, not for a long time:

  • Microsoft Loves Linux because Linux powers Azure networking, which is their most promising business unit. (source)
  • Microsoft used Linux to power their home page to protect against DOS attacks. (source)
  • Microsoft paid over $25 billion to buy a $3 billion revenue division running almost entirely on Linux. (source)
  • Linux servers used to centralize all the Skype traffic after the acquisition. (source)