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Who Writes Linux? There Are a Lot of Unknowns

In the beginning, there was Linus Torvalds, a single developer who put together the original Linux kernel. Fast forward to 2008 and Torvalds is no longer the lone Linux developer.

According to a new report published by the Linux Foundation, as of the 2.6.24 kernel, Torvalds' code represents 0.6 percent of the changes made. Torvalds' Linux now has nearly 1,000 developers working on it, representing over 100 corporations.

Though there are a lot of individuals involved, the report states that it is the top 10 individual contributors that collectively have contributed 15 percent of kernel changes.

The study also found that over 70 percent of all contributions come from developers working for companies. Leading the pack is Red Hat with 11.2 percent of the total number of changes. Novell follows at 8.9 percent, with IBM coming in third at 8.3 percent. Other notables include Intel at 4.1 percent, Oracle at 1.3 percent, MontaVista at 1.2 percent and Cisco at 0.5 percent.

While the Linux Foundation report identifies a good number of companies that are contributing, the single largest change contributor at 13.9 percent is listed as 'none'.

"The 'none' is descriptive of people who are on their own and are just individual contributors," Amanda McPherson, Linux Foundation marketing director and co-author of the report told InternetNews.com. "You don't have to have everyone from companies."

Perhaps more interestingly is the fact that the report also notes that developers with unknown corporate affiliation represent 12.9 percent of Linux kernel changes.

"The unknown is more a function of the way we do the analysis," McPherson explained.

McPherson added that the report explains how the analysis is done, which involves looking at the e-mail address of the contributing developer. Then Greg Kroah-Hartman (who is a co-author of the report and well-known Linux kernel developer), makes his own analysis based on an e-mail address and his own knowledge what company someone is working for.

"When people contribute to the Linux kernel you don't have to fill out some kind of survey identifying who is paying for you," McPherson said. "So it's a little bit of a process to try and figure out who is actually funding this work."

The challenge is one that continues to get harder as time progresses.

According to the report the number of active kernel developers has tripled since 2005. All those developers are driving contributions of an average 3,621 lines of code per day, with new kernel releases coming out every 2.7 months.

The most recent Linux kernel release was the 2.6.24 kernel at the end of January, with the 2.6.25 kernel expected to be released soon.