Linux kernel community grows, but elite group remains

A report from the Linux Foundation details individual kernel contributions and suggests enterprise use is expanding

While Linus Torvalds' name is synonymous with the Linux kernel, Al Viro's may be one day, too.

Viro has contributed 1,571 changes to the kernel, which sits at the core of the Linux operating system, over the past three years, according to a new report from the Linux Foundation. That's more than any other individual developer, the report states. In contrast, Torvalds, the kernel's creator and steward, contributed 495 changes. Viro couldn't be reached for comment about the report.

During the past three years, the top 10 individual developers have contributed nearly 15 per cent of the changes to the kernel, while the top 30 developers have submitted 30 per cent, the report states.

But this group of coding superstars sails atop a roiling sea of newer community members, notes 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 per cent 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 per cent. "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.

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