For years, Linux, arguably the most important free software project, has been dominated by big enterprise IT vendors. Even as Linux made its way into mobile phones, cars and just about anything else with an on/off switch, the center of development gravity stayed in enterprise servers.
Until now. In the Linux Foundation's latest Linux Kernel Development: 2013 Update, a clear shift toward mobile development is evident. While enterprise-centric Red Hat still leads the pack, mobile-focused companies like Qualcomm, Samsung and even Google are pushing ahead of enterprise server vendors to make Linux their own.
Mobile Making Waves In A Very Big Pool
Standing out in the Linux community is hard. After all, since 2005 the Linux community has included over 10,000 individuals across 1,000 different organizations. Not only is the group big, but it moves exceptionally fast: the Linux community merges 7.19 patches every hour, or roughly 171 changes every day and more than 1,200 per week. This is impressive on its own, but doubly so when we recognize that many changes don't get accepted into the kernel and so aren't included in that number.
As such, it's significant to see Red Hat maintain its lead in the Linux kernel development:
But even more impressive is Linaro, a non-profit engineering organization founded in 2010 by ARM, Freescale, IBM, Samsung, ST-Ericsson and Texas instruments (TI), with significant behind-the-scenes engineering involvement from Canonical, which climbed from #25 in 2012 to #4 in 2013. That is a breathtakingly huge jump. Qualcomm also made a big jump: in 2012 it didn't even make the list but in 2013 it hit #17. These three companies combine for to contribute over 11% of the kernel changes in the last year.
While not every mobile company jumped in the rankings—Nokia, for its part, completely dropped off the list, given its focus on Windows—TI, Samsung and Google all climbed alongside Linaro and Qualcomm. Mobile is clearly claiming a significant role in Linux kernel development.
Linux: More Corporate All The Time
Not only is Linux development becoming more mobile-oriented, it's also increasingly commercial. Yes, Linux development has long had a definite skew toward commercial development, but this trend hit overdrive in 2013.
As the report notes, the top 10 contributors, including the groups “unknown” and “none,” make up over 55% of the total contributions to the kernel. Even if one assumes that all of the “unknown” contributors were working on their own time, over 80% of all kernel development is done by developers who are being paid for their work.
Volunteer developers are unlikely to remain such for long. As in other successful open-source projects, quality developers quickly get hired if they show talent. Not surprisingly, then, the volume of contributions from unpaid developers has been in slow decline for a long time. In 2012 developers with no corporate affiliation made up 14.6% of contributions. Now that share has fallen to 13.6%. We should expect this trend to continue.
This Is What Open Source Looks Like
Not that this shift should be surprising. As far back as 2002 the Boston Consulting Group found that the majority of open source developers were not only highly qualified, they were also generally well-compensated for their open source contributions. What we've seen in the past decade is the market come to accept and even celebrate this fact.
This corporate involvement might be a problem if it were somehow stymying Linux kernel development, but it's clearly not. Linux has remained relevant to a variety of different markets, including enterprise servers and consumer mobile, because it invites participation by a number of different vendors. As Eucalyptus CEO Marten Mickos recently told ReadWrite,
The purpose of the [free and open source] license and the governance model is not really to enable like-minded people to collaborate, although that's a benefit too. It's about enabling unlike-minded people to collaborate. The beauty of open source is that people who dislike each other can produce code for the same product.
Nowhere is this more evident than Linux development, for which we should be very, very grateful.
You might also glean more information from this infographic the Linux Foundation created:
Lead image courtesy Matt McGee, via CC license.