Linux, which is arguably the most important free software project, is making a clear shift towards mobile development. This is highlighted in the Linux Foundations latest Linux Kernel Development: 2013 Update with mobile focused companies such as Qualcomm, Samsung and Google are pushing ahead of enterprise server vendors to make Linux their own.
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.
According to the update, whilst Red Hat maintains its lead in Linux kernel development; 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, climbed in the rankings from position 25 in 2012 to position 4 in 2013. Qualcomm also made a big jump in which in 2012 it didn’t even make the list but in 2013 it hit position 17.
Texas Instruments, Samsung and Google also all climbed alongside Linaro and Qualcomm. Mobile is clearly claiming a significant role in Linux kernel.
Alongside this, Linux is also becoming more commercial with this trend hitting 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.
It is envisaged that 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. As a consequence, 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 which is now fallen to 13.6%.
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.
This corporate involvement might be a problem if it were somehow restraining 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. Marten Mickos (a member of the board of directors of Nokia) stated that;
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.
The following infographic shows the development of Linux trending towards Mobile in 2013..