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Who writes Linux and open source software?

Developers and, more to the point, the companies that employ them

Opinion Even now, I run into those who think Linux and open source software is made by people living in their parents' basement and writing the code out of the goodness of their hearts. Wrong. So, so wrong.

Yes, even now, some people write open source code to scratch an itch or just because they enjoy it. But if you look closely, you'll find that the vast majority of today's open source programmers do it for the same reason you do your job: money.

Don't get me wrong, open source developers tend to love their work. For every open source programmer I've known who didn't like to code on their assigned project, I've known at least a dozen who were miserable working on proprietary programs. But the numbers speak for themselves.

Aiven, an open source cloud data platform company, recently analyzed who's doing what with GitHub open source code projects. They found that the top open source contributors were all companies – Amazon Web Services, Intel, Red Hat, Google, and Microsoft.

Microsoft!!? Yes, Microsoft. I know, I know, you've been raised up to spit at the very name, and many of you still continue to think Microsoft is the Evil Empire.

Folks, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, neither of whom had any love for open source or Linux, haven't been calling the shots at Microsoft for almost a decade. This is not your dad's Microsoft. In short, get over it.

Aiven looked at three metrics within the GitHub archives. These were the number of contributors, repositories (projects) contributed to, and the number of commits made by the contributors. These were calculated using Google Big Query analysis of PushEvents on public GitHub data.

The company found that Microsoft and Google were neck-and-neck for the top spot. Red Hat is in third place, followed by Intel, then AWS, just ahead of IBM.

Specifically, the research found that in 2022's last quarter, Microsoft and Google continued to vie for the top spot. Google staff were working across more projects than Microsoft but contributing fewer updates (commits) overall. Red Hat is following closely behind and is currently contributing more commits than Google, with 125,012 in Q4 2022 compared to Google's 94,961. Microsoft is ahead of both, with 128,247 commits.

However, regarding contributed staff working on projects, Google is leading the way with 5,757 compared to Microsoft's 5,513 and Red Hat's 3,656. Intel is ranked as the fourth top contributor to GitHub. Despite AWS's jump in commits, Intel continues its dedicated commitment to open source with 2,834 contributors working on projects and 36,948 commits. Of course, with Google's recent open source layoffs, and everyone else and their HR team firing developers – idiots! – all these numbers are subject to change.

Another interesting thing is that while the hypercloud companies, especially AWS, don't get any credit for supporting open source software development, they actually put money, jobs, and code behind open source projects. Specifically, Aiven found "Amazon is growing its open source contributors across three metrics–contributors, repositories contributed to, and the number of commits by the contributors." Indeed, AWS has done so much of this that by one metric, GitHub commits, Amazon is already contributing more than Intel.

Heikki Nousiainen, Aiven CTO and co-founder, commented: "An unexpected result of our research was seeing Amazon overtake IBM to become the fifth biggest contributor." They "came late to the open source party, but they're now doubling down on its open source commitments and realizing the benefits that come with contributing to the open source projects its customers use."

So, yes, open source certainly started with individual contributors, but today, and for many years before, it's company employees that are really making the code. As Nousiainen said: "Innovation is at the heart of the open source community, but without a strong commitment from companies, the whole system will struggle. We can see that companies are recognizing their role and supporting all who use open source."

Aiven is far from the only one to have noticed that companies are now open source's economic engine. Jonathan Corbet, editor-in-chief of Linux Weekly News (LWN), found in his most recent analysis of Long Term Support Linux Kernel releases from 5.16 to 6.1 that a mere 7.5 percent of the kernel development, as measured by lines changed, came from individual developers. No, the real leaders were, in order: AMD; Intel; Google; Linaro, the main Arm Linux development organization; Meta; and Red Hat.

If anyone working for these groups is living in their parents' basements, it's because they like it. Not because they can't afford to live anywhere else. ®

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