Interview: Amanda McPherson on the $25 Billion Linux Ecosystem

by Ostatic Staff - Nov. 10, 2008

Last month, the open source community was buzzing over a report released by the Linux Foundation that placed the value of the Linux ecosystem at around $25 billion. Now that the dust has settled somewhat, we caught up with Amanda McPherson, the foundation's VP of marketing & developer programs, to get her thoughts on the study, what the results mean for the community, and what the take-away message ought to be.

OStatic: What do the results of this study mean for someone who uses Linux as their primary operating system, but isn't a developer or engineer?

Amanda McPherson: That's a good question. I actually think this study, while very interesting to those who make investments in Linux, is also very interesting to end users. Why? Because they are able to make use of $10 billion in R&D, usually for free. The Value of Linux paper demonstrates the benefits of the collaborative development model. For Linux users, this means they're getting fast release cycles, low-cost support and flexibility in their operating system. They also realize that they're sitting on an amazingly valuable piece of software that can be used in whatever way they see fit.

OStatic: How do the results of this study affect open source developers and engineers?

Amanda McPherson: It illustrates in monetary terms for the first time the contributions of these developers and engineers. Without them, this operating system would not provide the foundation for entire markets to function in the way that they do or for new technologies to be introduced as quickly as they are. It also clearly signals that the bet has been made on Linux -- a $10 billion bet that is only going to get bigger. Operating systems are functions of momentum. If you take mass times speed, you get an idea of what operating system is going to stick around. This$10 billion number gives you a good indication that Linux will likely not be replicated.

OStatic: By some estimates, Fedora (and Linux overall) is worth seven times what it was six years ago. How and when will that figure level off?

Amanda McPherson: Good point. Some people say that the core of the operating system is largely done now—that much of what an operating system is, is already in Linux. As you can see from this report or others we've done here, though, Linux is growing at least 10% a year. I expect this will continue, but perhaps not at the fast clip we saw in the last six years. For instance, the new mobile and mobile Internet device users bring a host of new requirements, as well as new architectures.

OStatic: The paper specifically calls out the R & D behavior of Microsoft. Why single them out, but not Apple?

Amanda McPherson: We don't mean to only pick on Microsoft, but most markets are dominated by Linux and Windows, especially enterprise computing. In addition, Apple based their OS on an open source operating system—FreeBSD. They are a great example of a company who smartly used open source as the base of their product and did not "go it alone."

OStatic: There are many different angles to examine while studying the Linux ecosystem. Why did the Linux Foundation choose to look at (or re-visit) the cost of development over others issues?

Amanda McPherson: By measuring the cost of development, we can begin to understand how much free R&D is included in new products like Android and the Kindle. This is important to measure as the software market continues its shift from a proprietary development model to a collaborative one. More and more software will be developed this way, and the products and services it spawns will lead us into the future.

We have also done studies that look at the ecosystem spend around Linux. [For more information,] see the IDC white paper [PDF] on our site.

OStatic: What other types of research would help the Linux community better understand and improve the environment they're creating?

Amanda McPherson: I would love to see usability studies. I would love developers to see how people are using their systems and what bugs are causing them pain. I would also like to highlight those developers who are most adept at fixing bugs in Linux.

OStatic: Are you happy with the response and attention thus far that the new study has been receiving? What's the take-away message you hope people are getting?

Amanda McPherson: Yes, we're happy to see folks commenting on the study. That's what collaboration and community are all about—putting information in the public domain and inviting input. I think the most important thing that this paper illustrates is that without the billions of dollars in R&D that Linux represents, it would be decades before we would see technologies like Android and the Kindle come to market. Linux enables a software economy and ecosystem that will be the foundation for accelerated technology innovation in all areas of our lives. The old model of software development is crumbling before our eyes.