Open source contributors

Who creates open source software?

August 14, 2010
Open source contributors

Unlike proprietary software, open source software is not developed by a single company or group of developers. Instead it is developed by many different companies, thousands of individual developers and hordes of hobbyists.

One of the most significant open source projects is the Gnome desktop, an interface used on most popular releases of Linux including Fedora and Ubuntu. At the most recent Guadec conference, attended by Gnome developers from around the world, the results of the Gnome Census were revealed, offering an insight into how open source projects are developed.

Volunteer versus paid

The vast majority of developers that worked on the Gnome project described themselves as volunteers. More than 70% of developers surveyed said that they contributed to Gnome in their spare time. Another 19.93% of developers said they worked on Gnome both professionally and in their spare time. The portion of developers that worked on Gnome as paid professionals was close to 10%.

Because of the nature of open source most of these paid developers don’t actually work for Gnome but rather for a range of other companies. Chief amongst these was Red Hat. According to the report as much as 16.3% of the code contributed to Gnome was made by Red Hat employees. Novell was a little way behind that with just over 10% of the contributions.

Interestingly, although the vast majority of developers described themselves as volunteers, the vast majority of code contributions came from professional, paid-for developers. 23.5% of the contributed code was developed by volunteers with the rest of the code developed by companies and organisations.

Other major contributors of code to the Gnome project include Collabora (4.99%), Intel (2.57%), Fluendo (2.35%) and Sun (2.04%).

Divisive

When the report was first released one of the issues that quickly gained prominence was that Canonical, developers of Ubuntu, contributed 1.03% of the code to Gnome. Some community members compared this with Red Hat’s close to 17% contribution and accused Canonical of “freeloading”.

In most cases these accusations were later withdrawn following a post by Mark Shuttleworth in which he warned against “tribalism” in the open source community.

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