Linux Development — by Microsoft

April 3, 2012

The Linux Foundation, in conjunction with its Collaboration Summit currently being held in San Francisco, has released a new version of its periodic report on Who Writes Linux? [report PDF].   The increasing use of Linux and its derivatives in mobile, embedded, and cloud computing is reflected in the growth in scope of the project.

… we find that more than 7800 individuals from about 800 companies have contributed to the Linux kernel since 2005 and that the rate of development continues to accelerate.

I’ve written here before about the development of the Linux kernel, and some of its history.  Although the idea of collaborative development may seem very hip and new age (and it certainly has been made possible on this scale by the Internet), it is an idea that has been around since the early days of computing.

The biggest single group of contributors is comprised of individuals with no identified corporate affiliation.  The list of key contributors among corporate entities includes some of the usual suspects: Red Hat, Intel, IBM, and Google, for example.  There has also been an increase in contributions from firms associated with the mobile market: Nokia, Broadcom, Texas Instruments, and Samsung.  But the most surprising name in the list of the top 20 corporate contributors is Microsoft — yes, that Microsoft.  As I’ve mentioned before, Microsoft at one point regarded all open-source software development, and Linux especially, as the enemy; Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Ballmer, described it as “a cancer”.

More recently, though, Microsoft has apparently accepted that open-source, and Linux, are an inescapable part of the current computing landscape.  It has, for example, announced that it will use the Hadoop open-source software for its “big data” support in Windows Server and Windows Azure (its cloud platform).   The company has apparently decided that cooperation is a better strategy than confrontation.

There’s also some evidence that Microsoft may get some secondary benefits from participating in the Linux project.  In an article on the new report at Wired, Greg Kroah-Hartman, a key individual contributor from the Linux Foundation, and one of the authors of the report, says that Microsoft’s original code contribution has been slimmed down considerably since it was merged into the kernel.

“When it first was released by Microsoft, it was about 20,000 lines of code. Now it is 7,000 lines, and supports more devices, [including] mice and newer releases of the Hyper-V system,” he says. “Merging their code into the kernel tree caused it to get smaller overall, making it easier to maintain, and have less bugs.

A common criticism of the Windows operating system is that it is seriously bloated, an observation that has not escaped Microsoft’s attention.   Perhaps, by participation in Linux development, Microsoft may get some ideas that will make Windows a bit more svelte.

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