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Reading Between the Linux Contributor List's Lines

Reading Between the Linux Contributor List's Lines

Ubuntu and Canonical have done quite a bit in expanding the ecosystem and market for Linux, which used to be practically unusable on the desktop. By aspiring to a better, easier and more polished UI, Ubuntu has lifted other Linux distributions and their UIs along with it. This does not absolve Canonical of the responsibility to engage in upstream kernel work and contribution, though, and the company stands more to gain than lose by putting resources toward Linux.

By Jay Lyman LinuxInsider ECT News Network
04/17/12 5:00 AM PT

The recently released Who Writes Linux kernel contributor list reveals that some of the usual supporters of Linux -- Red Hat, SUSE, IBM, Intel, Oracle -- remain firmly behind the open source OS.

There has also been a lot of attention on the other contributors, which now include Microsoft. What I find most fascinating about the Linux contributor list -- beyond the increasing rate of code change with some 10,000 patches from 1,000 developers representing 200 companies in each quarterly kernel release -- are the contributors that show some new direction and potential for Linux, in this case the processor players.

Pushing Performance, Saving Power

ARM processor technology, which promises to deliver improving performance with increasingly critical power savings, is one example of a lot of kernel activity and involvement from contributors that are leaders in their parts of the industry.

They include Analog Devices, Broadcom, Freescale, Fujitsu, Marvell, Nokia, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and Wind River.

These vendors are focused on ARM and other processor technologies that are pushing performance while saving power and space. It is a healthy sign for Linux that they are all so intimately involved with pushing the Linux kernel and its communities forward.

Other interesting players on the latest list include Samsung, which may be among those to benefit most from deeper Android developer support and integration in the Linux kernel, as well as interesting cloud computing and HPC players such as NetApp and Parallels that are leveraging Linux in their strategy and technology development.

Microsoft's Place

Of course, there was quite a bit of attention on the appearance of Microsoft among the top 20 Linux kernel contributors. I've already made the case that Microsoft is among the broadest supporters of Linux in the industry, so it's not too surprising to see Microsoft among the top contributors to Linux.

While this may seem antithetical to the Microsoft known for badmouthing Linux and for limiting it on the desktop or in mobile, Microsoft appreciates that it can win more customers and satisfaction by supporting Linux alongside Windows and other Microsoft technologies.

Microsoft's moves with Linux and open source today are typically customer-driven and in the interest of both Microsoft and its customers. Linux vendors, as well as popular server automation frameworks such as Chef or Puppet, are likewise increasing their support for Windows and other Microsoft technologies as they move further and deeper in the mainstream enterprise market.

To Canonical's Credit

Whenever the Linux contributor report comes out, there is also typically some focus on those that use the Linux kernel code but do not necessarily appear among its list of core contributors.

One of the most frequent names to come up in this regard is Canonical, backer of the popular Ubuntu distribution. For its part, Canonical provides some of the icing on the Linux cake.

This may not seem important to some kernel hackers and open source software developers who feel Canonical should appropriately, proportionally contribute actual code and developer hours to Linux. There is validity to the criticism, and Canonical would likely benefit from a greater investment and contribution at the kernel level.

However, I've always thought Ubuntu and Canonical have done quite a bit in expanding the ecosystem and market for Linux, which used to be practically unusable on the desktop. By aspiring to a better, easier and more polished UI, Ubuntu has lifted other Linux distributions and their UIs along with it, in my opinion.

Again, this does not absolve Canonical of the responsibility to engage in upstream kernel work and contribution, and the company stands more to gain than lose by putting resources toward Linux.

Still, Canonical does deserve credit for its contributions that are critical to an important but frequently overlooked party: users.

Another overlooked contribution from Canonical is its solid community management and release schedule. The Linux kernel and its backers announced a Long-Term Support Initiative at the end of 2011.

Designed as providing a more stable, predictable base for developers, particularly those in the embedded space, this initiative follows a paradigm Ubuntu set more than five years ago with its release of a Long Term Support version, which continues in parallel with more regular, semiannual releases.


LinuxInsider columnist Jay Lyman is a senior analyst for 451 Research, covering open source software and focusing primarily on Linux operating systems and vendors, open source software in the enterprise, application development, systems management and cloud computing. Lyman has been a speaker at numerous industry events, including the Open Source Business Conference, OSCON, Linux Plumber's Conference and Open Source World/Linux World, on topics such as Linux and open source in cloud computing, mobile software, and the impact of economic conditions and customer perspectives on open source. Follow his blog here.


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