The first, Open source: 'World's largest software company' "The ultimate in disruptive technology" is coming up strong is a blog post by Matthew Broersma (via Liddy Nevile) that suggests that open source, a 60 billion dollar industry, may be a small part of a trillion dollar market, but it has a disproportionate impact on that market, as it averts (saves/costs, depending on your perspective) far more in expenditure/revenue. The post goes on to suggest that open source is moving up the food chain as well, displacing proprietary software in many instances, rather than simply providing a foundation for it.
Lorcan Dempsey responded to this with a report from the Linux Foundation: Linux Kernel Development (April 2008) which describes, among other things, who is doing development on Linux, the mother of all open source projects. Some interesting stat-bites:
- the individual development community has doubled in the last three years
- the top 30 developers have contributed 30 percent
So, its always a tight group that does the heavy lifting, but in a healthy community, there are many who make modest but important contributions to the overall stability and usefulness of the system. This certainly echoes my own experience in open source metadata development - the Dublin Core.
Open source does not mean, of course, that people don't get paid, or that commercial interests are not being served. Among the major corporations with whom developers are associated, each of the following has contributed 1% or more of the changes: Red Hat, Novell, IBM, Intel, Linux Foundation, SGI, MIPS Technologies, Oracle, MontaVista, Google, and Linutronix. Not a surprise that Microsoft isn't on the list, but where is Apple, arguably one of the big winners in the game?
Why do companies contribute to products over which they do not have direct control, and which do not feed directly into their bottom line? Because their commercial well-being is served by a stable, vendor-neutral operating system that makes their products appealing to others. And maybe, a little bit of stick-it-to-the-Man? Just a cynical guess.
The growth of developers in the Linux world, if it is representative of the open source milieu in general, is quite encouraging for those who believe we're better off when infrastructural hegemony is distributed broadly, rather than concentrated in monoculture. As Bill Joy famously said, at any given time, most of the smart people don't work for you. This is still true, even in the age of Google.
So, the average open source developer is not slaving away in a windowless basement, he or she has a steady paycheck, benefits, and probably represents corporate self-interest. Thats good. Such interests reinforce sustainable development. Having spent the majority of my time in recent months thinking about sustainable models for multi sector data curation, the observation that collaboration among the self-interested is not only possible, but thriving, is quite encouraging.
What I believe to be a ruffed grouse, in the Ho Rain Forest on the Pacific coast of the Olympic Peninsula. Wes and Christian and I were there last month, and Wes spotted him. He was 'drumming' to attract females on an unusually dry day in one of the wettest locales in the country (and attracted us, instead).