How many billions is open-source software worth?

Open-source software is big business. For example, most of what Oracle is getting for it $7.4-billion purchase of Sun is open-source software. Thanks to a Linux Foundation study, we know that creating the Fedora 9 Linux distribution would have cost $11.5-billionin conventional software costs. So, given all that, what do you think OSS (open-source software) as a whole is worth? How's about $387-billion?

That's the number that Black Duck Software came up with. Black Duck isn't an open-source ISV (independent software vendor). The Boston area company started as an IP (intellectual property) risk management and mitigation company, but has since grown into an open-source legal management firm.

Since Black Duck was founded in 2002, the company has been tracking all known open source on the Internet According to their research, there are over 200,000 open-source projects representing over 4.9 billion lines of code. To create that code from scratch, Black Duck estimates that "reproducing this OSS would cost $387 billion and would take 2.1 million people-years of development."

The company isn't pulling that number out of a hat. Black Duck's methodology looks iron-clad to me. The company used "Barry Boehm's widely accepted COnstructive COst MOdel (COCOMO), an algorithmic Software Cost Estimation Model that relates software development effort for a program, in person-years, to source lines of code (SLOC)." I've used COCOMO on consulting jobs, and it's a darn good tool.

So, that's neat, but what does it really mean? Black Duck said "We estimate that 10% of US-based development, representing $22 billion, is redundant and could be offset using OSS, much of which can be reinvested for true innovation." 10%! That little!? I don't believe it. Every software project I've ever analyzed has been stuffed full of what I call "reinventing the wheel" code.

You know what I mean, programmers writing lines of code that solve the same old problem, which have already been solved over and over again. I see this all the time, and not just in proprietary projects, I also see it in OSS as well. If there's one suggestion I could make to any ISV or in-house programming group it's to dump once and for all the idea that productivity is tied to any variation of lines of code per day. True productivity is making programs that do the job they're meant do on or under budget. That often means using already existing, already tested and working open-source code.

According to Black Duck, "With 4.9 billion lines of 'shovel ready code' available to developers OSS is a stimulus resource that can help development organizations around the world increase innovation, stretch budgets and spur growth." 

By tapping into OSS to companies can shift "scarce resources into projects that represent innovation and competitive differentiation."

In other words, using OSS isn't about being anti-Microsoft or believing in some sort of open-source ethical rightfulness, using OSS is simply a smart business move. Indeed, at $387-billion in value, OSS is twice as valuable as Microsoft's current net worth of $183.5-billion. Not bad for 'free software' is it?

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