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Programming Software Technology IT Linux

The Myth of the Isolated Kernel Hacker 282

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the get-outta-yer-mom's-basement dept.
Ant writes "The Linux Foundation's report (PDF) on who writes Linux — "... Linux isn't written by lonely nerds hiding out in their parents' basements. It's written by people working for major companies — many of them businesses that you probably don't associate with Linux. To be exact, while 18.2% of Linux is written by people who aren't working for a company, and 7.6% is created by programmers who don't give a company affiliation, everything else is written by someone who's getting paid to create Linux. From top to bottom, of the companies that have contributed more than 1% of the current Linux kernel, the list looks like this: ..."
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The Myth of the Isolated Kernel Hacker

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  • by ExE122 (954104) * on Thursday August 20, 2009 @09:09AM (#29132479) Homepage Journal
    Captain Benjamin Willard was not a myth!
    • by Sloppy (14984)

      Go to Chinatown, find Murtz, and .. you know.

  • shocking (Score:5, Funny)

    by alen (225700) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @09:12AM (#29132507)

    and i thought IBM and Red Hat just took the code and didn't give their changes back to everyone else

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by PeterBrett (780946)

      No, that was Canonical. Greg K-H publicly and controversially called them out about it at a kernel developer conference a while back, but I can't find a link right now.

      • Re:shocking (Score:5, Interesting)

        by FudRucker (866063) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @09:24AM (#29132681)
        • Re:shocking (Score:5, Insightful)

          by FudRucker (866063) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @10:23AM (#29133377)
          @ 22:30 in the video Greg speaks about who is funding the work, and @ 23:20 he says Canonical is 300 in funding/contributing to the kernel, then goes on to say Canonical does not give back to the community, i think he is right, other than free *ubuntu ISOs i dont i know of any source code anywhere that comes from them...
    • by pjt33 (739471)

      The real news here is that, since isolated kernel hackers are apparently a myth, for safety reasons they should all be grounded*. That certainly explains why they spend all their time in their parents' basements.

      * We wouldn't want them shocking anyone.

    • by timeOday (582209)

      and i thought IBM and Red Hat just took the code and didn't give their changes back to everyone else

      No, you're thinking of BSD (ducks)

  • by dkf (304284) <donal.k.fellows@manchester.ac.uk> on Thursday August 20, 2009 @09:14AM (#29132523) Homepage

    Linux isn't written by lonely nerds hiding out in their parents' basements

    Of course! There's the lonely nerds hiding out in their parents' attics as well. More light, less ground water.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Yes, Canonical. It is nowhere to be seen in contributions to the linux kernel. Why won't the biggest name in desktop linux, which is funded by a millionaire, doesn't contribute to the linux kernel?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 20, 2009 @09:20AM (#29132623)

      They seem to concentrate on the userland experience..

      Not a bad idea.

      • by wigaloo (897600) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @09:37AM (#29132829)

        They seem to concentrate on the userland experience.. Not a bad idea.

        There are a variety of kernel issues (think wireless drivers and other hardware support) that have a major impact on the userland experience. I'm not about to say where Canonical should invest their time -- there are more than enough issues to go around, and it isn't shameful for them to concentrate elsewhere as the GP implied -- but what happens with kernel development certainly impacts the Ubuntu userland.

        • by Kjella (173770)

          There are a variety of kernel issues (think wireless drivers and other hardware support) that have a major impact on the userland experience.

          And there's plenty drivers living in userland missing. For example anything connected by USB, the kernel can do raw read/write to all USB devices but without a driver to know where and what to write that won't do any good. A linux issue yes, but not a kernel issue.

        • by I.M.O.G. (811163)

          There are a variety of kernel issues (think wireless drivers and other hardware support) that have a major impact on the userland experience. I'm not about to say where Canonical should invest their time -- there are more than enough issues to go around, and it isn't shameful for them to concentrate elsewhere as the GP implied -- but what happens with kernel development certainly impacts the Ubuntu userland.

          While your premise is true, the implication that Canonical should contribute in a greater way towards

        • I think the question to ask is if you think Linux would be better off without the contributions of Canonical. Even if they contributed nothing more than a brand and marketing, they've done their fair share in making Linux more successful, usable and accessible.

          There's more to the success of an operating system than the kernel.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 20, 2009 @09:22AM (#29132651)
      The kernel is only a small part of a distribution. If Canonical is contributing nothing upstream to any of its packages, then that's unfortunate. Focusing on the kernel is silly.
      • by sofar (317980)

        given that the kernel is one of the largest parts, with probably the most dramatic changes going on, you'd think that it would be wise for anyone so dependent on it to contribute directly.

        Canonical is not only not caring, they are also passing on a strategical opportunity to help out where it matters a lot.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by AlecC (512609)

          On the other hand, what Canonical are focussing on, and what makes Ubuntu popular, is the user experience. They are doing all the tidying up of the installer and package handling so that the non-techie user doesn't get baffling (to them) messages about mismatched packages etc. In some ways, you should see them more as a packager than a developer. In which case it is hardly surprising that they contribute little to kernel development. The kernel, by and large, is the bit that you don't package.

    • by Java Pimp (98454) <java_pimp.yahoo@com> on Thursday August 20, 2009 @09:27AM (#29132731) Homepage
      Because the kernel works. It's the desktop that needs help.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      Canonical is not a company for-profit. Simply because red hat is a distro as well as a company doesn't mean you should hold all distros to the same standards as companies. Canonical doesn't have the resources to spend on hiring a team of programmers to hack the kernel all day. Instead, it relies on debian-unstable (not the testing sid, just the unstable) for its kernels and focuses more on the gui, the included software, and making everything usable and relatively stable for the end user (i use debian stabl
    • I have no idea whether this is true or not, but it might well be that Canonical is a lot more involved with the integration of desktop environments and application packages, documentation, support, and so on, and not doing much at all with the kernel. Linux kernel development is one thing, Linux distro development is another.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pseudonomous (1389971)
      I can't answer that question, but you know what other big linux using corporation is conspiciously absent from that list?

      Google.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by dissy (172727)

        I can't answer that question, but you know what other big linux using corporation is conspiciously absent from that list?

        Google.

        Serious question (I must not be awake enough yet to form a proper Google query)

        How much HAS Google actually contributed back to Linux?

        I mean I realize they USE Linux and all, but I haven't heard of any kernel updates/patches from them.

        Have they really contributed much back to the kernel? the distros? All that they make popular and well known are their apps, which is great and all, but an app is not a kernel.
        And even their apps seem to usually get late ports to Linux, just after the already late port to Mac

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward

          Google contributes in two ways. Directly, they provided a port to one of the Qualcomm MSM chips as part of the Android project. That's a pretty substantial chunk of code related to a pretty sophisticated microcontroller. Smallish compared to the total amount of kernel code, however, as are all platform/machine/architecture ports.

          Indirectly, Google funds the the Summer of Code, which has resulted in kernel code submissions--- but all under the original author's identity and not Google's.

          Overall, I don't k

        • by AndrewNeo (979708)

          Is it a requirement to CHANGE anything in the kernel? If they're just using stock builds, what is there to give back?

          • by dissy (172727)

            Is it a requirement to CHANGE anything in the kernel? If they're just using stock builds, what is there to give back?

            Well, I would say to "contribute back to the Linux kernel", that yes, changing the kernel is a requirement ;}

            Thus my question. Parent said Google DID contribute back to the kernel. I, like you, assumed they used a stock build.
            But admittedly I did not know either way what the case was.

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by tristanreid (182859)

        FUD much?
        Since you're currently at +5 Insightful, I have to point out that they're actually on the list, the poster above cut it off at 1%, they're .8%.

        Also from TFA, there's another list of companies that do sign-off patches. Google is at 10.5% on that list, behind only Red Hat, above Novell, Intel, and IBM.

        To put it in perspective, the list doesn't include Linus on the list of contributors (he doesn't make the cut), but it does list him on the sign-off patches list.

        Just FYI,

        -t.

        • I see, the second link in the summary only lists the top 16 contributers, well, I suppose it's only a matter of time before someone mods my original post down.
      • by sapphire wyvern (1153271) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @10:24AM (#29133383)

        They're a little bit further down.

        The next two rows on the list in TFA are as follows:

        17: Freescale 1,375 0.9%
        18: Google 1,261 0.9%

        I'm not sure why the parent decided to stop where they did.

        These rankings are based on number of kernel changes submitted broken down by employer.

        However it seems that Google employees are making a significant contribution to Linux project management and quality processes though: Red Hat employees sign off on over 36.4% of changes, which is the highest proportion of sign-offs in the hands of a single company, but Google has second place in that table with 10.5% of all sign-offs. It looks like several Google employees are filling the roles of subsystem maintainers - they may not write as much code as some other companies but they are still contributing some senior people.

        Interesting stuff!

    • You don't get it (Score:3, Insightful)

      by firewrought (36952)

      You know what company is shamefully absent? Canonical. It is nowhere to be seen in contributions to the linux kernel. Why won't the biggest name in desktop linux, which is funded by a millionaire, doesn't contribute to the linux kernel?

      Free software is about freedom, not about community busybodies telling companies how they should give back. If you're a company who can take free software, respect the licenses, and make a bajillion dollars off of it, then great! That's part of what freedom is about.

    • by Runaway1956 (1322357) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @10:20AM (#29133331) Homepage Journal

      Seems a lot of people don't know squat about Canonical. Some rich guy invested a good bit of his fortune into making Linux widely known and acceptable on the laptop. So far, he's done a pretty good job. If he contributes nothing else back into the upstream system, he attracts some pretty bright people to the Linux community - SOME of whom go on to contribute something. Reality check: Ubuntu does contribute, whether they actually work on the kernel or not.

    • by gad_zuki! (70830)

      Considering the mess that is userland and the desktop, you should be thankful they even exist. I mean, shaving off .0000002 ms off kernel loading time is great too, but perhaps someone should be focused on the desktop experience and maintaining a good distro without too much worrying about the kernel.

    • In that case, where are GNU and Debian?

      I'd imagine that they make up a considerable portion of the 18% of contributions made by individual developers. Given that Ubuntu is a variant of Debian with a radically overhauled user interface, one would imagine that any Ubuntu kernel hackers would be encouraged to contribute upstream to Debian, rather than to Ubuntu itself.

  • Not quite a myth. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Hatta (162192) * on Thursday August 20, 2009 @09:16AM (#29132553) Journal

    At 18.2%, individuals are still the largest single group contributing to Linux. The next is RedHat at 12.3%.

  • by chrb (1083577) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @09:30AM (#29132765)

    I hope this finally kills off the "GPL is bad for business" myth. Every one of those companies is paying for work on the kernel because it is good for their business. Red Hat, IBM, Novell, etc. aren't charities - they sponsor Linux development because it expands their markets and brings in profits.

    • by ClosedSource (238333) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @09:43AM (#29132895)

      Yes, once Linux was established as a viable OS, companies jumped on the bandwagon.

      The real business issue about GPL'd code isn't whether established companies will support it once it is successful, but whether you can start your own for-profit software business if you license your software under the GPL.

      • by the_womble (580291) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @10:32AM (#29133511) Homepage Journal

        whether you can start your own for-profit software business if you license your software under the GPL.

        Depends on what the alternatives are and what your business model is. Assuming we narrow down the choices to the two best known open source licences (others are broadly similar to one of the other) and proprietary licensing:

        • Want to do all the development yourself, distribution yourself, not using GPL licensed libraries, want to make your money from license sales? Proprietary.
        • Want to accept community contributions and sell a proprietary version, happy for competitors to use your code, do not need GPL libraries, want others to redistribute? BSD or GPL and persuade contributors to sign over the copyrights, or cleanly separate open and proprietary components and LGPL.
        • Do not want to sell a proprietary version, want to use GPL licensed libraries, want to accept outside contributions, want to prevent people from reselling your code without contributing back, want other to distribute? GPL
        • Doing all the development yourself, but want to use GPL libraries, want others to redistribute, want to prevent competitors reselling your code without contributing? GPL
        • Want to re-assure users that the software will still be around if you go bust? GPL or BSD. Additionally want to stop competitors reselling a proprietary version? GPL.

        Obviously this does not cover anything like all the possibilities, but I just want to make the point that there are business reasons for every choice.

    • by MarkvW (1037596)

      If a GPL'd operating system, like Linux, came to dominate the business and consumer OS market, would that be FINANCIALLY better or worse for software developers?

      If so, how? If not, why no significant action in that direction?

      • Which developers? Those who use, rather than produce OSes will probably be better off - and there are far more of them

        Microsoft shareholders would take most of the loss.

        OS developers would have a wider choice of employers, which might strengthen their bargaining position, but the business itself will be less profitable so there will be less money to go around. I would bet on a reduction in the number of jobs (with a lot of people moving to other types of software) rather than a huge reduction in salaries.

        Th

  • Reminds me of PBS...
    This Linux Kernel was brought to you by the continued support of USERS LIKE YOU.*

    * And support from Red Hat, IBM, and Novell.

  • by vtechpilot (468543) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @09:41AM (#29132861)

    If you sum up the figures given in the article, it only accounts for 75.9% of the contributions. I am going to speculate that this missing quarter is contributed by many who contribute infrequently. IE, IT staff in companies that use Linux and find the occasional bug and submit a patch to correct it. If this speculation is correct, the largest group that contributes is 'Everyone Else'.

  • I haven't been keeping up with linux development all that much lately, but as I was looking at some of the graphs in the report, I started to become curious as to what the data might represent. For instance, the graph showing lines of code Added, Deleted, or Modified in the 2.6.x kernels. Did something get a massive re-write in 2.6.27?

  • by ClosedSource (238333) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @09:47AM (#29132933)

    The point is that Linux would simply not exist except for the efforts of non-paid developers. The same cannot be said of Red Hat, IBM et al.

  • by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @09:51AM (#29132977)

    For the longest time, it seems like major business have collaborated in one of several ways:

    • Standards-setting bodies, often backed by industry cosortia
    • Contractually established relationships.

    But with Linux, it seems like a new model of collaboration for companies. It's mostly a meritocracy where a company's stature cannot get a bad or only-self-serving idea pushed into the end result. But because of that discipline, the final product is so compelling that companies want/need to participate anyway.

    Am I right?

  • It makes sense (Score:5, Insightful)

    by HangingChad (677530) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @09:51AM (#29132981) Homepage

    ...everything else is written by someone who's getting paid to create Linux.

    It pays for companies using Linux to contribute to the development. The long term savings of using Linux massively outweighs the small contribution of programming resources. And those contributing to development get to address the technical issues on top of their priority list. You can't get that kind of service out of Microsoft.

    We're quickly approaching the time when an operating system is more like a utility than a product. A commodity delivery mechanism for business services. The potential for Linux, very quickly approaching realization, is that it can provide a unified stack from a mainframe down to embedded systems. That type of efficiency is very powerful economically. I'm sure MSFT can swim against that tide a long time but, eventually, efficiency will win.

    • by gbjbaanb (229885)

      And those contributing to development get to address the technical issues on top of their priority list. You can't get that kind of service out of Microsoft.

      you can, but if you need to ask "how much does it cost?", you really don't have enough money to even want to know the answer.

  • Just because someone gets a check from a company, doesn't mean they're not lonely nerds hiding in their mother's basement :-)

  • What we see here is that a small number of companies is responsible for a large portion of the total changes to the kernel. But there is a "long tail" of companies (500 of which do not appear in the above list) which have made significant changes.

    Yup. The top 50 contributors (including groups for "none" and "unknown") add up to about 81.5%, meaning that those other 500 companies, added together, yield 18.5% of the code--more than any other single group.

  • by sarkeizen (106737) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @10:21AM (#29133353) Journal
    Linux isn't written by lonely nerds hiding out in their parents' basements. It's written by people working for major companies...who just happen to also be nerds and like to be close to mom.
  • From the report, it appears only men substantially contribute to kernel development. Yes, I have used listed names to come to my conclusion. Where are the women? Or am I wrong?

  • I'm trying to figure this out. Is this meant to assure businesses that Linux isn't dependent on a bunch of "lonely hackers", so they'll be more comfortable bringing it into their IT department? Or is it a response to the sorts of people that seem to turn their noses up in disdain whenever the idea of corporate involvement in Linux is brought up (Slashdot users, you know who you are)?

    Or maybe it's just a public "outing" to point out, by omission, who's not "giving back to the community" sufficiently (in the

  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday August 20, 2009 @11:44AM (#29134669) Homepage

    The Linux kernel ought to be done by now, and stable.

    Drivers, file systems, and networks ought not to be in the kernel. That's a big part of the problem.

    Real microkernels like QNX don't change much. USB and FireWire support were added without kernel mods, for example.

    Yes, microkernels require extra copying. But copying is cheap on modern CPUs, as long as what's being copied was accessed recently and is in cache. Fear of copying cost dates from older CPU architectures, where instruction cycles mattered more than cache footprint.

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