Opinion: Measuring the value of open source

(Image Credit: Phil Whitehouse)

The Linux Foundation, the non-profit organisation created to promote and accelerate the growth of collaborative software development in general, and Linux in particular, has released a report that puts the combined value of its collaborative development projects at more than $5 billion.

Current Linux Foundation collaborative projects include the AllSeen Alliance, which promotes interoperability in the Internet of Things, the Cloud Foundry Foundation, which promotes Cloud Foundry’s platform-as-a-service cloud computing technology, Tizen, an open source operating system for mobile and wearable devices, the Cloud Native Computing Foundation, which promotes container-based native application development, Code Aurora Forum, a collaborative effort to develop and test open source software for mobile devices, and OpenDaylight, an open source framework for the deployment of software-defined networking.

Using David A. Wheeler’s SLOCCount toolset, which involves analysing the software lines of code in a project and estimating the associated person years and development costs, the Foundation’s analysis revealed that:

  • There are currently a combined 115,013,302 total lines of source code in the Linux Foundation's collaborative projects.
  • The effort required to retrace the steps of collaborative development for these projects amounts to 41,192.25 person years.
  • It would take 1,356 developers more than 30 years to recreate the code bases present in these projects.
  • The total economic value of this development work is estimated to be $5,663,488,007.63

This valuation is in addition to the total economic value of a complete Linux Fedora distribution, which the Foundation previously estimated at $10.8 billion.

The Linux Foundation’s $5.66 billion estimate for its collaborative projects could actually be a little on the conservative side as it fails to take into account the duplication of effort that would result from a commercial development model. Although collaborative development involves different groups working on different approaches to the same problem before agreeing on the best solution, if the Linux Foundation’s collaborative projects had been created as commercial initiatives they would almost certainly see competing companies spending more person years developing complete software products that solve the same problems for the same users.

Beyond Linux

Of course, the Linux Foundation’s collaborative projects represent just a small percentage of the world’s free and open source software. In 2009, Black Duck Software estimated the combined economic value of the entire world’s open source software amounted to $387 billion and would take more than 2 million person years to develop.

A vast array of organisations, including startups, multinationals, non-profits and government organisations, now use open source software extensively. From established media organisations like the BBC, professional networking platform for developers Lens, global banks like Barclays, to public sector organisations like the NHS. In fact, an extraordinary 78% of companies now run part or all of their operations on open source software, and this growth is only going to continue.

Given that Black Duck’s original estimate was calculated more than six years ago, it seems almost certain that the combined value of the entire world’s open source software amounts to significantly more than $387 billion today.

What personal value has open-source had for you? Let us know in the comments.

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