Linux elite maintain their dominance of kernel development

The Linux community is growing fast and while a small group still dominate development of the Kernel, the growth of open source businesses means corporate contributions are rising fast.


During the past three years, the top 10 individual developers have contributed nearly 15 percent of the changes to the kernel, while the top 30 developers have submitted 30 percent, according to a new report from the Linux Foundation.

Al Viro has become the most prolific contributor to the the Linux kernel with 1,571 changes over the past three years. In contrast, Linus Torvalds, the kernel's creator and steward, contributed 495 changes.

The elite group is supported by newer community members, according to Jim Zemlin, executive director of the Linux Foundation. Roughly 3,700 developers from more than 200 companies have contributed to the kernel since 2005, according to the report.

The statistic underscores the widespread penetration of Linux into enterprise computing. But the report was still necessary in light of lingering public perceptions, Zemlin said.

"I do think there continues to be groups of people out there who perceive open source and Linux as some kind of random hobbyist movement," he said. "It's amazing that after Linux is running the New York Stock Exchange, that people would still doubt it's ready for prime time. Yet, I hear it, in kind of mainstream conversations."

The report breaks up contributors into a number of categories.

The top-ranking one, with 13.9 percent of the kernel changes, contains developers performing work on their own time, with "no financial contribution happening from any company," according to the report.

Coming in second was the "unknown" category - developers for whom a corporate affiliation couldn't be found - with 12.9 percent. "With few exceptions, all of the people in this category have contributed 10 or fewer changes to the kernel over the past three years, yet the large number of these developers causes their total contribution to be quite high," the report noted.

Developers tied to companies and foundations ranked next, with Red Hat in the lead (11.2 percent), followed immediately by Novell (8.9 percent), IBM (8.3 percent), Intel (4.1 percent) and the Linux Foundation (3.5 percent) on the list of 30. A slew of other corporations round out the list with smaller contributions, such as Oracle (1.3) and Fujitsu (.5 percent).

"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 which have made significant changes,'" the report said.

Zemlin suggested this is set to accelerate, given that many new products using Linux will hit the market in coming months: "Think about how many of those people will become kernel code contributors."

Despite all the activity, the kernel project is in no danger of being hijacked by particular corporate interests, he said: "The companies understand the principles of the development process and the rules by which people participate. They understand it is built on trusting relationships, both individually and from a corporate perspective."

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