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Open Source Businesses Linux Business Software Stats The Almighty Buck Linux

Linux Foundation Puts the Cost of Replacing Its Open Source Projects At $5 Billion 146

chicksdaddy writes: Everybody recognizes that open source software incredibly valuable, by providing a way to streamline the creation of new applications and services. But how valuable, exactly? The Linux Foundation has released a new research paper that tries to put a price tag on the value of the open source projects it comprises, and the price they've come up with is eye-popping: $5 billion. That's how much the Foundation believes it would cost for companies to have to rebuild or develop from scratch the software residing in its collaborative projects.

To arrive at that figure, the Foundation analyzed the code repositories of each one of its projects using the Constructive Cost Model (COCOMO) to estimate the total effort required to create these projects. With 115,013,302 total lines of source code, LF estimated the total amount of effort required to retrace the steps of collaborative development to be 41,192.25 person-years — or 1,356 developers 30 years to recreate the code base present in The Linux Foundation's current collaborative projects listed above.
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Linux Foundation Puts the Cost of Replacing Its Open Source Projects At $5 Billion

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  • What is the cost of the QEMU code?

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by Tough Love ( 215404 )

      What about Linux kernel? Bearing in mind that several trillion dollars of industry now depend on it.

  • Huge presumption (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sunderland56 ( 621843 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2015 @12:07PM (#50628191)
    They are presuming that all of their projects are equally valuable. The GCC compiler, for instance, is widely used, and it's disappearance would put a large hole in the software world. Gnu Hurd, on the other hand.... if it disappeared tomorrow, would anyone even notice?
    • by Anonymous Coward

      ... Gnu Hurd, on the other hand.... if it disappeared tomorrow, would anyone even notice?

      It HASN'T?!?!?!

      captcha: failsoft

    • those would be gnu projects not linux foundation projects which would be the Linux kernel, Xen hypervisor, and other [wikipedia.org] projects [wikipedia.org]

    • Wait, what? Does the Linux Foundation own either of those two things?

      Linux isn't "every piece of Gnu software on the planet", and I seriously doubt very much the Linux Foundation either claims to own GNU Hurd, or has anything to do with it being pushed.

      Are you perhaps totally confused about what "Linux" is? I'll give you a hint ... it's the core operating system. It's certainly not every piece of GNU software, and it's definitely got nothing to do with GNU Hurd.

      • Does the Linux Foundation own either of those two things?

        The Linux Foundation does not "own" any of its projects.

    • by Junta ( 36770 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2015 @12:40PM (#50628509)

      They said it would take approximately 30 years for approximately 1300 developers to get there. We know because we have an idea of how things evolved that estimate is actually a bit short. Some of that codebase is about 30 years old, and well more than that many developers have contributed. Things have been done, discarded, redone. The estimate is actually a pretty optimistic one that assumes the developers get it 'mostly' right the first time when actual history has had many many dead ends that caused a total rethink. One would expect the same out of a private endeavor. So there's some balancing out.

    • The GCC compiler, for instance, is widely used, and it's disappearance would put a large hole in the software world. Gnu Hurd, on the other hand....

      Neither is a Linux Foundation project.

    • Yes, their infographic lists "Dronecode" whatever that is, alongside node.js

      The other problem with trying to calculate the value of the Linux kernel specifically is that it counts the costs of all the drivers as well and you end up concluding that building a kernel is infeasibly expensive (reality check: there are quite a few of them out there, made by non-huge companies). If Linux was developed from scratch commercially you wouldn't attempt to develop drivers for every piece of hardware known to man all in

      • Right, the other way is the Microsoft method where you create an API and just let everyone else write driver code for their own devices. Then you get tons of horribly-written drivers, all running in privileged mode inside the kernel, and every time one of them has a problem, you get a blue screen. It doesn't matter how great your kernel is because just one shitty third-party driver will crash it.

        This very problem has dogged Microsoft for decades now. The only ways they've gotten around it are 1) adopting

        • by KGIII ( 973947 )

          But you gain stability at that loss of performance. The dude that got the Minix going has some nice writings about microkernel designs. Given that he wrote THE book on operating systems, well, I do respect what he says. However, I don't use Minix. I generally stick with Linux or BSD - I've been enjoying GhostBSD a lot lately but the *buntu family is just so huge and handy so I'm often booted to Lubuntu.

          • Yep, Minix is one of those things where it sounds good in theory, not so much in practice. There's a reason there's no true microkernel designs out there dominating any markets.

        • 3) They also moved drivers into user space so those bluescreens you refer to rarely happen these days even with garbage drivers.

  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2015 @12:12PM (#50628253) Homepage

    If every corporation which relies on Linux as part of its infrastructure had to buy or build every piece of technology required to replace Linux, I should think on a global scale it would be far more than that.

    Because a lot of that effort would be duplicated by multiple companies .. and of course the patent litigation by all of the players who seek to claim they invented some piece of technology which predates them.

    I can believe $5 billion in this quite easily.

    Of course, I can't read the paper since I need to fill out some fscking form from, and that's not happening.

    Pity the Linux Foundation doesn't believe in open information.

    • I can't read the paper since I need to fill out some fscking form from, and that's not happening.

      That bit of PHB genius demonstrates adequately how disconnected from the community the Linux Foundation really is.

    • by gtall ( 79522 )

      My guess is the $5 Billion is fairly low. Who would organize the redone software, every two-bit company out there would contribute and then claim they owned a piece of the result. it would be a cluster-f of immense proportions. Meanwhile, the companies that currently rely on it would be SOL for further updates for security issues. Then there is the cost of companies throwing up their hands and buying closed source because every two-bit company with their closed software stack would be promising bargains lik

    • by BradMajors ( 995624 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2015 @01:51PM (#50629259)

      Since just one company, Microsoft is earning two billion per year from Android alone. Five billion does seem low.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Of course, I can't read the paper since I need to fill out some fscking form from, and that's not happening.

      Pity the Linux Foundation doesn't believe in open information.

      Direct link to the file: http://go.linuxfoundation.org/l/6342/pub-cp-cost-estimate-2015-pdf/2vbgpm

    • You can fill it in with complete bunk.

      Maybe if they see enough downloads from Mr ABC DEF at abc@def.com they will realize no one is interested in providing them personal information.

  • by __roo ( 86767 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2015 @12:13PM (#50628271) Homepage

    For those who don't know, COCOMO [wikipedia.org] is an algorithm that was developed in 1981 by Barry Boehm [wikipedia.org] for estimating the cost of building software (typically in person-hours). The numbers in the article were generated by the basic COCOMO calculation in David Wheeler's free SLOCCount toolset [dwheeler.com].

    One drawback is that SLOCCount uses the basic COCOMO calculation, which is based on historical data gathered by Boehm in 1981. Here's a COCOMO-81 calculator [usc.edu] in case you want to play with your own code. Sometimes its estimates are pretty good, but I've sometimes found that applying line counts from my projects in some modern languages (especially functional ones like Scala) throw it off. That could definitely affect the "1,356 developers 30 years" estimate in the article.

    Wheeler has a good discussion of COCOMO in SLOCCount [dwheeler.com] if you want to learn more about it.

    • That could definitely affect the "1,356 developers 30 years" estimate in the article.

      Sure, but look at it this way: way more developers than that have been working away on Linux for the last 20+ years.

      My experience with people trying to re-write a similar set of functionality from scratch, and covering all of the corner cases, exceptions, audits, and bug fixes ... that tells me that it takes a LOT longer to write something like that.

      So, ignoring the userland stuff, and things which hook into Linux, it's st

      • by KGIII ( 973947 )

        I don't contribute code - I will, if you want but rest assured that you do not want that - trust me on this. I've done lots of coding, lots. Eventually I hired capable people to do it for me and eventually they pretty much told me to stop helping. I listened. However, I donate. I donate a lot to a number of the various FOSS folks. I figure it is what I can do and that I must do something. I think my next big donation (probably silent) will be one of the bug bounty programs. I don't have any particular bugs

    • by Junta ( 36770 )

      I also wonder about how well the concept would scale up..... Very complex projects I've found have very little correlation between how costly it was to implement and the lines of code involved. I think this would be a case where the complexity of the task is not well represented by lines of code (lot's of code was created and eventually deleted that still represents work that would be likely to occur for an organization seeking to indepentently implement the same sort of stuff).

    • Their estimate's a bit off. They didn't factor in the cost of each developer's allotment of Mountain Dew.

  • "But my time is worthless, that's why I use open source."

    Seriously, though... the world works on open source these days. I would say is another bogus calculation and the real harm would be incalculable.

    Or take it another way... this is theoretical enough to be useless. Because the source is OPEN it's impossible to eradicate. You nuke one code repository and five more spring up in its place.

    As always, since the very nature of these projects mean you don't have a marketing teaming going "rah rah" all the t

  • lotta rogue apps come running thru here. Be a shame if one of them, you know... No, no - I'm not saying nothing, I'm just saying. (It's a joke. What they've accomplished in software is stunningly good.)
  • Oh great, now the information on taxing FOSS has been created. The government can now demand to know how much FOSS a person or company is using and then tax them on the "value" of it even though you paid nothing (and for individuals not earning anything from it).

    If you don't know how a government does imputed income, let me cite an example that almost got done. The current US "regime" wanted to charge home owners who had taken a mortgage on a house years ago and were making relatively small payments by cu

    • by murdocj ( 543661 )

      The current US "regime" wanted to charge home owners who had taken a mortgage on a house years ago and were making relatively small payments by current rates, the difference between what their house would rent for (if it was more than the mortgage payment) and the mortgage payment as imputed income. Yes, if you were paying $500 a month and the house could rent for $1500, you would have to add $12000 to your annual income in "imputed" income.

      This sounds like extreme BS. Care to cite something other than Internet rumor?

  • > the price they've come up with is eye-popping: $5 billion.

    Apple claims to have sold 13 million iPhones on launch weekend. Assuming an average price of $800, that's 10 billion in two days.

    So this doesn't impress me much. Or at all. I suspect its at least an order of magnitude higher than their estimate.

    • Right. Totally valid comparison, because the hardware grows on trees.

    • It is a Big Round Number that impresses until put into context. I am not sure what they are setting out to accomplish other than to come up with a metric so they can stick their thumbs in their rainbow suspenders and come off as even more condescending and self righteous.

  • by EndlessNameless ( 673105 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2015 @12:54PM (#50628691)

    Since most companies would either develop proprietary solutions or buy at a substantial markup from an establish publisher, the actual cost to replace all that software would be much, much higher. And if an established organization offers a replacement, it will likely have competitors---which again gives a duplication of effort, even if it is much smaller duplication than proprietary redevelopment of the functionality. This is not addressed at all in the paper.

    They do acknowledge that failed or superseded code is not included in their analysis, and there was certainly developer time spent on code that is not a part of the project, either because it was culled or never made the cut to begin with.

    Given both of those factors, the $5 billion figure is a very low best-case value. The practical cost of replacement would be monumentally higher once the mundane practicalities come into play.

    • > the actual cost to replace all that software would be much, much higher.

      I'm not sure on that. There are the BSDs out there and Windows still does exist (may not run on every device sure, but there are other low cost/free/open source embedded OSes that would). The biggest cost would be driver development/market adoption. But if we take into consideration the cost that companies/individuals (paid at an average market rate) spent doing it for Linux, then it's probably not far off of the mark. And sin
      • Did you read the article?

        The way they're talking about replacement cost, it only really makes sense if they're talking about building again from scratch.

        I assume existing applications would be developed to add all the lost functionality. If that's the game---a more practical take on "replacement" of the open source code---then you have to include integration and testing costs. Plus any opportunity costs for "lost" functionality that was not deemed worth reimplementing---because some things are very hard to

        • I suppose I was thinking of product developers (say, like Android) starting over "from scratch" without the Linux OS. I agree with the rest of your points.
  • But I guess if enough others save hundreds as well that figure can easily be in the billions globally. Still, it is the hundreds saved that are important to me.

    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      It costs me a lot but that's because I donate more than I'd pay for a proprietary OS. I'm not really in it to save money, however. I'd write code but, frankly, you don't want me to do that.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Just simply calculating 5B / (1356*30) you get approximately $122K per year. Bull shit. No fucking way 14 year old Billy from Boise in his mom's basement is making any money, let alone 122 grand.
    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      I forget the number but a good majority of the Linux code comes from paid developers working on their company's dime. Lots of companies are pushing code up stream these days. It's not like it used to be and that's a great thing.

      • This is true, but consider that 122K is on average. This means for every person in school out there contributing for free, we have others making 244K per year. If it were 10% free development, then the average for the others is 136K. The average salary for a software engineer in the USA is 94K [indeed.com], so something is fishy.
  • Or, more likely, switch to FreeBSD and forget Linux ever existed.
    • Or, more likely, switch to FreeBSD and forget Linux ever existed.

      This was along my line of thinking. Few are going to try to rebuild most of those things if they all of a sudden disappeared. They are simply going to another vendor that already offers a similar product.

      There is certainly a cost to all of that and it would be painful, but I somehow suspect that the price of switching would be far less than their estimate. Well, unless you went to Oracle for everything...

  • No, way more. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by EmperorOfCanada ( 1332175 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2015 @02:04PM (#50629383)
    The costs also need to consider all the dead ends and bad decisions. How much code was built that was never injected into the system. I suspect that many Linux developers have conjured up some really long and interesting code that they then never submitted. They threw it out and started again.

    Then there is the quality of the programmers. The few programmers that I have met who contributed to the Linux codebase were pretty damn kickass. Thus hiring them would not only be expensive but really hard. Most of them wouldn't work for most companies as they know they are the elite of the elite and can pick and choose their surroundings.

    Also Linux contributions are often a resume builder. Thus many junior but very very good programmers will do some Linux contributions which then makes them look cool. The reality is that they don't want to work on Linux but want some other job, such as the games industry. This is a double problem. Some company hiring for their 5 billion dollar project would never have hired them because they had crap resumes, and these kids didn't want to work on Linux and thus wouldn't accept a job working for a big boring company building an OS.

    Then there is the urgency factor. Many critical tiny bits of Linux were built by people with a specific problem. They didn't have a Linux driver for their 10,000 machines with the L257B Arcnet card. Thus they dove in and modified the driver for the L256A arcnet card just enough to make it work. But where would that kind of bug/feature have been prioritized by a corporation? Plus again the person doing this brought a skillset that was obviously very good for that problem but otherwise might have been a terrible hire for the project.

    Then there are the various OS distributions that compete. Not all Linux decisions have been good ones. Thus different distributions follow different paths resulting in winners and losers for various aspects of the system. Over time the winners end up spreading across the distributions and the losers just sort of fade away. Even the classic Gnome vs KDE has resulted in each becoming better. So one must count the costs of developing both Gnome and KDE.

    This last one even extends out to other Open Source OS projects such as BSD in that code from that project end up in Linux as well as providing competition.

    Then there is the whole build the wrong thing problem. Linux has evolved steadily to meet the demand of its users. But a corporation would build a product that would meet the demands of its marketing department. Thus any corporation building Linux wouldn't build Linux. They would typically build something like Windows or OS/2; Operating systems that were designed to create an ecosystem for selling other crap made by that company and locking their customers in.

    So while it is interesting to say such a huge number, I personally think that the number would be far far larger as to put together such a talent pool would probably be a mega project in itself over and above the actual paying of that pool and the other development costs.
    • Even the classic Gnome vs KDE has resulted in each becoming better.

      No it hasn't. Gnome has been getting worse ever since 1.0. There's certainly been lots of development work on it since those days, but it's only made it worse, not better. It's no different than Windows: everything GUI-wise since Vista has been a step backwards.

    • by Jack9 ( 11421 )

      > I suspect that many Linux developers have conjured up some really long and interesting code that they then never submitted

      All programmers do this. That's part of the development cost. I think you meant potential Linux developers that never contributed. We don't know about the code that we don't know about. Ok? What's more important is the 5 billion completely ignores the trillions that would be made off of licensing fees...you know, how they would have paid these theoretical costs. Since the US BEA cal

      • Except in this case I suspect that unlike paid programmers who eventually have to submit even if it is sort of crappy but works, the non paid Linux programmers might create their new marvel but realize that it is crap and the world never hears about it.

        Also, unlike in a large company with assignments, there are probably 20 programmers working right now on some cool feature or bug. But only one of them will get their submission in or the code will be submitted and then replaced by any solutions better tha
    • But 30 redundant and mostly unused distros are surely 30x more valuable than one that people actually use...

      • The key is that many of the distros over the years often had some cool feature that may have been adopted by the main distros. Maybe a better installer, or package manager. Many were just a huge waste of time for all involved. So how do you calculate the value of some group putting together an entire and innovative distro but the only thing remaining of it today might be a slightly better installer in the main distros?

        Yet all of today's main distros were some obscure distro in their distant pasts.

        My fir
  • So you could take about 1/3 of NASA's yearly budget and recreate it all from scratch. Just think of what could be available if NASA was defunded for 5 years and that money went into a national open source development project where everything created would be free to the world.

    Of course, imagine if we did the same with 1/2 of the US military budget. I suspect you'd run out of developers to hire before you ran out of money. And the pay for developers would be higher than airline pilots.

  • It would cost AT LEAST 5 billion to recreate the code being used.

    Amount of testing needed to achieve the same level of reliability and interoperability ? Could easily top 500 billion dollars.

    No, it is not hyperbole. Look at the expense most companies are going through to maintain ageing old code running in mainframes or the code running on WinXP and IE6 and ActiveX control. If you look at the man years used to develop that code, it might be X. To rip it out and replace it? It has no relationship to X. It

  • I never found COCOMO particularly useful for cost predictions because you guess SLOC Instead of guessing FTEs. Reversing the process when you know the SLOC still has problems because COCOMO is nowhere near being reliable if the SW involved more than screen to database and reverse, such as significant math.
  • It's only 115M lines of code.

    My calculation on that comes out closer to $1.3B for a 5 year project to replace all of it.

    With a much smaller number of highly dedicated people who are 3X as expensive as the average software engineer in Silicon Valley, I think it'd be possible to drive the number down closer to $790M and 2 years.

    The people would need to be dedicated, and the project would need to be driven by (in effect) a dictatorial ass whom everyone has agreed to follow to the ends of the Earth. In other w

    • What would it cost for the US or UK govt to try to duplicate this code base?

    • Perhaps you should write a book about your ideas how software is written.

      When COCOMO was developed we had ideas about productivity in software development like this,
      per day a developer writes about:
      25 - 100 lines of code in user applications
      5 - 10 in service software, like specialized editors, TCP/IP stacks etc.
      < 1 line of code in system software, especially kernels.
      And this is independent of programming language used
      E.g. if you care to write your software in assembler, in the long run a kernel developer

      • Perhaps you should write a book about your ideas how software is written.

        When COCOMO was developed we had ideas about productivity in software development like this,
        per day a developer writes about:
        25 - 100 lines of code in user applications
        5 - 10 in service software, like specialized editors, TCP/IP stacks etc.
        < 1 line of code in system software, especially kernels.
        And this is independent of programming language used

        These stats are largely inaccurate for modern coders, who are much more productive than if they were writing their code in IBM BAL. If you have a modern coder writing at this rate (on average), then you should likely fire them, and hire someone who can code, instead. The "on average" is because you should spend 90% of your time planning and 10% of your time coding.

        On a project (The Whistle InterJet), I wrote a Fetchmail replacement to work around a number of issues that the author felt were unnecessary to

        • No, they only mentioned the Linux Foundation code, the 115M lines. And they did it to emphasize what they perceived as the value of the code.
          My Point here was that this code neeeds to be broken down into different categories of complexity. I fear they only used a "Default category"

          • No, they only mentioned the Linux Foundation code, the 115M lines. And they did it to emphasize what they perceived as the value of the code.
            My Point here was that this code neeeds to be broken down into different categories of complexity. I fear they only used a "Default category"

            Complexity distinctions are rather specious; let me explain.

            Yes, a coding error in an OS can crash the whole machine. But at the time the lines of code stats were written, most computers were not running a protected mode OS, and therefore, a coding error in *any* program could potentially crash the entire machine.

            By that token, they've overestimated the value, by treating everything as if it could crash the machine. Unless we relax the criteria to "could crash the machine and/or result in a security vulne

  • All you need to do is hire 494,304 programmers (41,192 x 12) and you could replace it all in a single month. Right??? See how simple math works.
  • Just because it would cost $5 billion to replicate the c code doesn't mean its value is $5 billion. Some could be worth a lot more that the replication costs, and some total worthless despite huge replication costs.
  • We all understand the mythical man-month issues here, but Microsoft alone employs around 50,000 software engineers (Google 30,000). If everything done at the linux foundation is equal to less that the output of Microsoft for one year (or google for less than 16 months), there may either be a problem with your numbers, or with the entire model of open source. I'm going to assume the issue is the models...
  • That works out to 8238450 work days of programming (presuming 50 week years.)

    That means they only expect a programmer to produce 1396 lines of code per day.

    It would seem they're over-estimating the cost of their projects -- even back in the early '90s an "average" programmer produced 2000 lines of code per day, and that was before the advent of most of the modern debugging and IDE technology that speeds up the process, included time for builds which used to run for hours or days instead of minutes, and

  • So, in a commercial environment, it would cost $5 Billion of commercial developers being paid a proper wage. I get that. But in this day and age, if you wanted to build that sort of thing, you wouldn't hire developers commercially. You'd create an open source project and let the developer community at large assist in your project.

    In doing so, it would cost far less. I cite, as my proof-of-concept example, an organization called the linux foundation, which has 115,013,302 total lines of source code and d

  • That seems low honestly. That's pocket change to the big fish.

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