Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Monday, June 24, 2024

Linux Study Claims $5B in Economic Impact 

Open source software development in general and Linux in particular have helped generate an estimated $5 billion in economic value, according to a new report by the Linux Foundation gauging the fruits of collaborative projects.

In a report released Wednesday (Sept. 30), the Linux Foundation estimated that more than 115 million lines of code have been generated through Linux collaborative projects over the last two decades. The report estimates that it would have taken 1,356 developers 30 years to produce the software code generated by the open source projects.

The upshot, according to Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation, is that "collaboration is today’s competitive advantage."

The shift to open source also is evident in the growing number of large technology companies like IBM, Google (GOOG) and Microsoft (MFST) that are tying their cloud and other platforms to open source projects and Linux Foundation initiatives in areas like open interconnects and the Internet of Things.

These and other efforts have helped forge consensus on industry standards needed to leverage open source software in new products and technologies. Still, some within the software development community worry about the growing influence of global technology companies on the open source movement. For example, a staffer with the nonprofit Free Software Foundation argued that the Linux Foundation is steadily morphing into a "trade association."

Nevertheless, more than 500 companies and thousands of software developers have contributed about 68 million lines of code to open source projects in the last several years. The Linux Foundation estimates it would take about 1,000 developers 24 years to replicate that collaboration.

The new Linux report on the value of open source collaboration is based on an earlier study that analyzed the economic value of Linux source code. That assessment concluded that it would cost more than $1 billion in year 2000 U.S. dollars to develop the GNU/Linux operating system distribution via proprietary development projects.

Since then, the latest study maintained, "open source has taken over the software industry. As the speed and requirements of innovation are changing, technology companies have realized that to keep pace and be cost effective they must leverage external R&D in the form of open source projects."

While the economic impact of open source development is substantial, the study authors also acknowledged that their estimates reflect only "what it would cost to recreate the code bases" generated by open source projects.

Along with a growing number of efforts aimed at promoting interoperability, the foundation also cited efforts like Cloud Foundry as examples of the growing economic impact of open source projects that also eliminate wasteful duplication of effort. In the case of Cloud Foundry, it noted that vendors such as Accenture (ACN), GE, Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Huawei, IBM, SAP (ADR) and Verizon (VZ) are using the open source to "leverage shared resources for non-differentiated parts of the stack."

The study authors concluded, "It’s clear that the complexity present in modern day software requires an economic investment that is unlikely to be shouldered by one company alone."

The Linux Foundation report is available here.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).