Report: Fedora development worth US$10.8B

According the authors of a Linux Foundation report, Fedora would have cost billions of dollars to develop had it been done through proprietary, commercial means.
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

The development of Fedora Linux was worth more than $10 billion, the authors of a Linux Foundation report have claimed.

According to Estimating the Total Development Cost of a Linux Distribution, a report published on Wednesday, Fedora's development would have cost US$10.8 billion in "today's dollars" if it had been built through a proprietary, commercial route.

The cost of developing the Linux kernel alone would be US$1.4 billion in such circumstances, wrote the report's authors, Linux Foundation employees Amanda McPherson, Brian Proffitt and Ron Hale-Evans.

"This year has seen an incredible proliferation of Linux-powered devices outside of traditional Linux strongholds: devices powered by the Moblin platform, netbooks like the Eee PC, mobile phones like the [G1 Android phone], and consumer devices like the Amazon Kindle," McPherson said in a statement. "I think this points to the power of the collaborative development model. Monopolistic software companies used to be able to fund heavy [research and development] budgets, keeping out competition. Given the cost associated with building an OS like Linux, one wonders if proprietary companies will ever go it alone again."

Linux distributions, which are free, are largely developed by an unpaid volunteer base, although many companies also contribute code to such projects. Fedora is a non-enterprise distribution of Linux for desktops, overseen by the Fedora Project and sponsored by Red Hat.

The report's authors derived the US$10.8 billion figure from the fact the Fedora 9 distribution contains 204.5 million lines of code in 5,547 application packages. They estimate the development of this amount of code to equate to around 60,000 "person years".

The authors then used an average US developer's annual salary of US$75,662, together with a multiplier of 2.4 (a so-called "wrap rate" that takes into account "costs of testing, equipment, company operating costs and total compensation for the developer") to arrive at their total.

The report's authors did note a possible bias in their use of American developers' salaries in their calculations. "Of course most software development these days is global, so using a U.S.-only salary number is somewhat specious," they wrote. "One avenue of continued exploration would be to determine a global average salary to use as a baseline for production costs."

The report is an update to a similar study done in 2002, in which author David Wheeler estimated the worth of a typical Linux distribution at US$1.2 billion. The new study replicated Wheeler's methodology.

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