Thu 21 Jan 2010
According to an article in APC, of the more than 2.8 million lines of code contributed to the Linux kernel over the last year or so, 75% were written by paid developers. Considering the business ecosystem that's grown up around Linux over the last 10 years, this should come as no surprise. But still, it's an interesting counterpoint to the notion that Linux is written by a community of dedicated volunteers. I think that characterization is probably still largely correct: volunteers write Linux. The kernel is a particular beast with a particular social system. What happens at the core of Linux matters so much to the IBMs of the world that it stands to reason they would get particularly involved there.
But I also think this is an interesting window into what happens to open-source systems as they grow, evolve, and become essential to the computing world. What percentage of Wikipedia is written by paid representatives? Nobody knows. Aside from some notable exceptions in which journalists, politicians, or Scientologists were caught with their hands in the cookie jar, we don't know where a lot of Wikipedia's content comes from. I think it's a fair assumption that some large percentage of it comes from paid representatives. It's probably not as high as 75%, though.