Linux OS Worth $10.8 Billion

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Linux Foundation has announced the publication of a new report titled 'Estimating the Total Development Cost of a Linux Distribution', written by Amanda McPherson, Brian Proffitt and Ron Hale-Evans on the value of Linux development. The paper finds that it would take approximately $10.8 billion to build the Linux community distribution Fedora 9 in today’s dollars with today’s software development costs. It would take $1.4 billion to develop the Linux kernel alone.

This report is an update of a 2002 study done by David A. Wheeler that examined the Software Lines of Code (SLOC) present in a typical Linux distribution (Red Hat Linux 7.1). At that time, Wheeler found that it would cost over $1.2 billion to develop a Linux distribution by conventional proprietary means in the U.S.

The authors examined Fedora 9 distribution using Wheeler’s tools and methods, specifically the SLOCCount tool that estimates value and effort of software development based on the COnstructive COst MOdel (COCOMO). The report goes into detail on the methods used, how they specifically apply to the Fedora distribution and the Linux kernel, and what an estimate of Linux’ value really means.

The study highlights three major areas; how much does a full distribution cost? how much does the Linux kernel cost? how does this really measure the value of linux?

Using 2008 salary figures, the tests published in the paper revealed that if developed today, the full set of Fedora 9 distribution packages would cost $10.8 billion. The Fedora 9 distribution contains 204.5 million lines of code in 5547 application packages. The development effort estimate comes close to 60,000 Person-Years. Applying this test to the Linux kernel included in Fedora 9 found the value to be 6.8 million lines of code worth $1.4 billion. The development effort estimate for the kernel alone exceeds 7500 Person-Years. This study reveals that collaborative development creates enormous economic value. In the past two years alone, over 3,200 developers from 200 companies have contributed to the kernel. An even larger number has contributed to full Linux distributions. Measuring the economic effort involved is imperfect, but this report clarifies why the methodology is the best approach and some of the limitations.

“This year has seen an incredible proliferation of Linux-powered devices outside of traditional Linux strongholds: devices powered by the Moblin platform, netbooks like the eeePC, mobile phones like the Gphone, and consumer devices like the Amazon Kindle. Would these products be possible without Linux?” said McPherson. “I think this points to the power of the collaborative development model. Monopolistic software companies used to be able to fund heavy R&D budgets, keeping out competition. Given the cost associated with building an OS like Linux, one wonders if proprietary companies will ever go it alone again.”

Amanda McPherson is vice president, marketing and developer programs, at the LF and leads its promotion, developer and community-relations activities. Brian Proffitt is community manager with the LF, managing the Linux Developer Network. Ron Hale-Evans is senior specifications writer with the LF and works closely with the Linux Standard Base (LSB) developer team to create LSB specifications.

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