Open source creates software worth billions of dollars

A Linux Foundation report estimates the total economic value of development costs of Linux Foundation Collaborative Projects to be around $5 billion.

jim zemlin
Credit: Swapnil Bhartiya

During his keynote at LinuxCon 2015 North America, Jim Zemlin, the executive director of the Linux Foundation said, “We have added 64 million lines of code just in the last few years from the projects that we are just hosting here at Linux Foundation. And this is not the code that these projects started with; that’s been added since they started as a collaborative project. Thousands of unique contributors, creating billions of dollars in value and this doesn’t even include Linux, which blows all these numbers out of water."

Those were impressive numbers but what we didn’t know was the value of this collaborative work. Today the foundation has released a report aptly titled: “A $5 Billion Value: Estimating the Total Development Cost of Linux Foundation’s Collaborative Projects.”

The report is co-authored by Jeff Licquia, software engineer at Linux Foundation; and Amanda McPherson, The Linux Foundation’s chief marketing officer.

Even if estimating the value doesn’t really mean that there is a price tag on these projects, it does help us understand the effectiveness of collaborative and shared technologies. Companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google benefit from these shared technologies as instead of working solely on ‘commodity’ software, they share engineering resources, which frees them from building core competencies.

The report’s findings are based on David A. Wheeler’s COCOMO Model, which he pioneered in 2002 to inform what became a well-regarded study that assessed the value of a Linux distribution (The Linux Foundation performed a similar assessment in 2008). It assesses the Software Lines of Code (SLOC) in a project and the estimated person years and development costs associated to produce a value of the development costs.

Key findings in the report are:  

  • There are now 115,013,302 total lines of source code in Linux Foundation’s Collaborative Projects.
  • The estimated total amount of effort required to retrace the steps of collaborative development for these projects is 41,192.25 person years
  • 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 over $5 billion dollars.

The foundation is among the most successful open source organizations around. They have a tried and tested project - Linux - that has become a role model for other projects.

The success of all these projects are very well captured in these lines by Zemlin. “...we want to take the collaborative DNA of Linux and provide a similar infrastructure guidance to other open source projects…”

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