decoration decoration

When you want to know more...
For layout only
Site Map
About Groklaw
Legal Research
ApplevSamsung p.2
Cast: Lawyers
Comes v. MS
Gordon v MS
IV v. Google
Legal Docs
MS Litigations
News Picks
Novell v. MS
Novell-MS Deal
OOXML Appeals
Quote Database
Red Hat v SCO
Salus Book
SCEA v Hotz
SCO Appeals
SCO Bankruptcy
SCO Financials
SCO Overview
SCO v Novell
Sean Daly
Software Patents
Switch to Linux
Unix Books


Groklaw Gear

Click here to send an email to the editor of this weblog.

You won't find me on Facebook


Donate Paypal

No Legal Advice

The information on Groklaw is not intended to constitute legal advice. While Mark is a lawyer and he has asked other lawyers and law students to contribute articles, all of these articles are offered to help educate, not to provide specific legal advice. They are not your lawyers.

Here's Groklaw's comments policy.

What's New

No new stories

COMMENTS last 48 hrs
No new comments


hosted by ibiblio

On servers donated to ibiblio by AMD.

How Much is the Linux Kernel Worth?
Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 08:32 AM EDT

David Wheeler has just written an article in which he calculates the cost to re-develop the Linux 2.6 kernel. He figures about $612 million. That is the least it is worth however, as he notes:

"It's worth noting that these approaches only estimate development cost, not value. All proprietary developers invest in development with the presumption that the value of the resulting product (as captured from license fees, support fees, etc.) will exceed the development cost -- if not, they're out of business. Thus, since the Linux kernel is being actively sustained, it's only reasonable to presume that its value far exceeds this development estimate. In fact, the kernel's value probably well exceeds this estimate of simply redevelopment cost."

What is Linux's value, then? A lot. The word billions comes to mind. I enjoyed watching him do the calculations, and I hope you do too. My thanks to him for permission to share this with you on Groklaw.


Linux Kernel 2.6: It's Worth More!

David A. Wheeler
October 12, 2004

This paper refines Ingo Molnar's estimate of the development effort it would take to redevelop Linux kernel version 2.6. Molnar's rough estimate found it would cost $176M (US) to redevelop the Linux kernel using traditional proprietary approaches. By using a more detailed cost model and much more information about the Linux kernel, I found that the effort would be closer to $612M (US) to redevelop the Linux kernel. In either case, the Linux kernel is clearly worth far more than the $50,000 proposed by Jeff Merkey.


On October 7, 2004, Jeff V. Merkey made the following offer on the linux.kernel mailing list:

We offer to the sum of $50,000.00 US for a one time license to the Linux Kernel Source for a single snapshot of a single Linux version by release number. This offer must be accepted by **ALL** copyright holders and this snapshot will subsequently convert the GPL license into a BSD style license for the code.

Groklaw, for example, included an article that mentioned this proposal. It also noticed that someone with the same name is listed on a patent recently obtained by the Canopy Group. SCO is a Canopy Group company. Thus, this proposal raised suspicions in many as to Mr. Merkey's motivations.

Many respondents noted that Merkey's proposal would require complete agreement by all copyright holders. Not only would such a process be lengthy, but many copyright holders made it clear in various replies that they would not agree to any such plan. Many Linux kernel developers expect improved versions of their code to be continuously available to them, and a release using a BSD-style license would violate those developers' expectations. Indeed, it was clear that many respondants felt that such a move would strip the Linux kernel of legal protections against someone who wanted to monopolize a derived version of the kernel. Many open source software / Free software (OSS/FS) developers allow conversion of their OSS/FS programs to a proprietary program; some even encourage it. The BSD-style licenses are specifically designed to allow conversion of an OSS/FS program into a proprietary program. However, the GPL is the most popular OSS/FS license, and it was specifically designed to prevent this. Based on the thread responses, it's clear that many Linux kernel developers prefer that the GPL continue to be used as the Linux kernel license.

In one of the responses, Ingo Molnar calculated the cost to re-develop the Linux kernel using my tool SLOCCount. Molnar didn't specify exactly which version of the Linux kernel he used, but he did note that it was in the version 2.6 line, and presumably it was a recent version as of October 2004. He found that "the Linux 2.6 kernel, if developed from scratch as commercial software, takes at least this much effort under the default COCOMO model":

 Total Physical Source Lines of Code (SLOC)                = 4,287,449
 Development Effort Estimate, Person-Years (Person-Months) = 1,302.68 (15,632)
  (Basic COCOMO model, Person-Months = 2.4 * (KSLOC**1.05))
 Schedule Estimate, Years (Months)                         = 8.17 (98.10)
  (Basic COCOMO model, Months = 2.5 * (person-months**0.38))
 Estimated Average Number of Developers (Effort/Schedule)  = 159.35
 Total Estimated Cost to Develop                           = $ 175,974,824
  (average salary = $56,286/year, overhead = 2.40).
 SLOCCount is Open Source Software/Free Software, licensed under the FSF GPL.
 Please credit this data as "generated using David A. Wheeler's 'SLOCCount'."

After noting the redevelopment cost of $176M (US), Ingo Molnar then commented, "and you want an unlimited license for $0.05M? What is this, the latest variant of the Nigerian/419 scam?"

Strictly speaking, the value of a product isn't the same as the cost of developing it. For example, if no one wants to use a software product, then it has no value, no matter how much was spent in developing it. The value of a proprietary software product to its vendor can be estimated by computing the amount of money that the vendor will receive from it over all future time (via sales, etc.), minus the costs (development, sustainment, etc.) over that same time period -- but predicting the future is extremely difficult, and the Linux kernel isn't a proprietary product anyway. Estimating value to users is difficult, and in fact, value estimation is surprisingly difficult to compute directly. But if a software product is used widely, so much so that you'd be willing to redevelop it, then development costs are a reasonable way to estimate the lower bound of its value. After all, if you're willing to redevelop a program, then it must have at least that value. The Linux kernel is widely used, so its redevelopment costs will at least give you a lower bound of its value.

Thus, Molnar's response is quite correct -- offering $50K for something that would cost at least $175M to redevelop is ludicrous. It's true that the kernel developers could continue to develop the Linux kernel after a BSD-style release, after all, the *BSD operating systems do this now. But with a BSD-style release, someone else could take the code and establish a competing proprietary product, and it would take time for the kernel developers to add enough additional material to compete with such a product. It's not clear that a proprietary vendor could really pick up the Linux kernel and maintain the same pace without many of the original developers, but that's a different matter. Certainly, the scale of the difference between $176M and $50K is enough to see that the offer is not very much compared to what the offerer is trying to buy.

But in fact, it's even sillier than it appears; I believe the cost to redevelop the Linux kernel would actually be much greater than this. Molnar correctly notes that he used the default Basic COCOMO model for cost estimation. This is the default cost model for SLOCCount, because it's a reasonable model for rough estimates about typical applications. It's also a reasonable default when you're examining a large set of software programs at once, since the ranges of real efforts should eventually average out (this is the approach I used in my More than a Gigabuck paper). So, what Molnar did was perfectly reasonable for getting a rough order of magnitude of effort.

But since there's only one program being considered in this analysis -- the Linux kernel -- we can use a more detailed model to get a more accurate cost estimate. I was curious what the answer would be. So I've estimated the effort to create the Linux kernel, using a more detailed cost model. This paper shows the results -- and it shows that redeveloping the Linux kernel would cost even more.

Computing a Better Estimate

To get better accuracy in our estimation, we need to use a more detailed estimation model. An obvious alternative, and the one I'll use, is the Intermediate COCOMO model. This model requires more information than the Basic COCOMO model, but it can produce higher-accuracy estimations if you can provide the data it needs. We'll also use the version of COCOMO that uses physical SLOC (since we don't have the logical SLOC counts). If you don't want to know the details, feel free to skip to the next section labelled "results".

First, we now need to determine if this is an "organic", "embedded", or "semidetached" application. The Linux kernel is clearly not an organic application; organic applications have a small software team developing software in a familiar, in-house environment, without significant communication overheads, and allow hard requirements to be negotiated away. It could be argued that the Linux kernel is embedded, since it often operates in tight constraints; but in practice these constraints aren't very tight, and the kernel project can often negotiate requirements to a limited extent (e.g., providing only partial support for a particular peripheral or motherboard if key documentation is lacking). While the Linux kernel developers don't ignore resource constraints, there are no specific constraints that the developers feel are strictly required. Thus, it appears that the kernel should be considered a "semidetached" system; this is the intermediate stage between organic and embedded. "Semidetached" isn't a very descriptive word, but that's the word used by the cost model so we'll use it here. It really just means between the two extremes of organic and embedded.

The intermediate COCOMO model also requires a number of additional parameters. Here are those parameters, and their values for the Linux kernel (as I perceive them); the parameter values are based on Software Engineering Economics by Barry Boehm:

  • RELY: Required software reliability: High (1.15). The Linux kernel is now used in situations where crashes can cause high financial loss. Even more importantly, Linux kernel developers expect the kernel to be highly reliable, and the kernel undergoes extensive worldwide off-nominal testing. While the testing approach is different than traditional testing regimes, it clearly produces a highly reliable result (see the Reliability section of my paper Why OSS/FS? Look at the Numbers!).
  • DATA: Data base size: Nominal (1.0). Typically the Linux kernel manages far larger data bases (file systems) than itself, but it handles them as somewhat opaque contents, so it's questionable that those larger sizes can really be counted as being much greater than nominal. Handling the filesystems' metadata is itself somewhat complicated, and does take significant effort, but filesystem management is only one of many things that the kernel does. So, absent more specific data, we'll claim it's nominal. If we claim it's higher, and there's reason for doing so, that would increase the estimated effort.
  • CPLX: Product complexity: Extra high (1.65). The kernel must perform multiple resource handling with dynamically changing priorities: multiple processes/tasks running on potentially multiple processors, with multiple kinds of memory, accessing peripherals which also have various dynamic priorities. The kerrnel must deal with device timing-dependent coding, and with highly coupled dynamic data structures (some of whose structure is imposed by hardware). In addition, it implements routines for interrupt servicing and masking, as well as multi-processor threading and load balancing. The kernel does have an internal design structure, which helps manage complexity somewhat, but in the end no design can eliminate the essential complexity of the task today's kernels are asked to perform. It's true that toy kernels aren't as complex; requiring single processors, forbidding re-entry, ignoring resource contention issues, ignoring error conditions, and a variety of other simplifications can make a kernel much easier to build, at the cost of poor performance. But the Linux kernel is no toy. Real-world operating system kernels are considered extremely difficult to develop, for a litany of good reasons.
  • TIME: Execution time constraint: High (1.11). Although it doesn't need to stay at less than 70% resource use, performance is an important design criteria, and much effort has been spent on measuring and improving performance.
  • STOR: Main storage constraint: Nominal (1.0). Although there has been some effort to limit memory use (e.g., 4K kernel stacks), Linux kernel development has not been strongly constrained by memory.
  • VIRT: Virtual machine volatility: High (1.15). The most common processor (x86) doesn't change that quickly, though new releases by Intel and AMD do need to be taken into account. But the other components of underlying machines (such as motherboards, peripheral and bus interfaces, etc.) change on a weekly basis. Often the documentation is unavailable, and when available, it's sometimes wrong. The Linux kernel developers spend a vast amount of time identifying hardware limitations/problems and working around them. What's worse, because of the variety of different hardware (and more which keeps arriving), the interface of the underlying machine is actually quite volatile.
  • TURN: Computer turnaround time: Nominal (1.0). Kernel recompilation and rebooting aren't interactive, but they're reasonably fast on 2+ GHz processors. Once the first compilation has occurred, recompliation is usually quite quick for localized changes. Thus, there's no reason for this to be a penalty.
  • ACAP: Analyst capability: High (0.86). It appears that the those analyzing the system, and determining what should be done in terms of identifying the "real" requirements and the needed design modifications to support them, are significantly better at doing things than the industry average.
  • AEXP: Applications experience: Nominal (1.0). It's difficult to determine how much experience with the Linux kernel the software developers of the Linux kernel have. Clearly, if you modify the same program day after day for many years, you'll tend to become more efficient at modifying it. Some developers, such as Linus Torvalds and Alan Cox, clearly have a vast amount of experience in modifying the Linux kernel. But for many other kernel developers it isn't clear that they have a vast amount of experience modifying the Linux kernel. In absence of better information, I've chosen nominal. This suggests that on average, developers of the Linux kernel have about 3 years' full-time experience in modifying the Linux kernel. More experience on average would help, and lower the effort estimation somewhat.
  • PCAP: Programmer capability: High (0.86). Generally only highly capable, above-average developers (75th percentile or more) would be successful at helping to develop a kernel.
  • VEXP: Virtual machine experience: Nominal (1.0). The x86 processors, which are by far the most popular for the Linux kernel, are relatively stable and developers have much experience with them. But they are not completely stable (e.g., the new 64-bit extensions for x86 and the NX bit). The Linux kernel is also influenced by other processor architectures, which in the aggregate change quite a bit over time. In addition, most of the kernel is in its drivers for hardware, and this hardware often acts as a virtual machine as well as a needed interface. Many driver developers, while experienced in general, often have less experience with that particular component, and they often don't have good documentation to help them. What's worse, hardware components are notorious for not operating as their specifications proclaim, and the kernel's job is to hide all that. Thus, this is averaged as nominal, and this is probably being generous.
  • LEXP: Programming language experience: High (0.95).
  • MODP: Modern programming practices: High - in general use (0.91). This program is written in C, which lacks structures such as exception handling, so there is extensive use of "goto" (etc.) to implement error handling. However, the use of such constructs tends to be highly stylized and structured, so credit is given for using modern practices. Some might claim that this is giving too much credit, but changing this would only make the estimated effort even larger.
  • TOOL: Use of software tools: Nominal (1.0).
  • SCED: Required development schedule: Nominal (1.0). There is little schedule pressure per se, so the "most natural" speed is followed.

So now we can compute a new estimate for how much effort it would take to re-develop the Linux kernel 2.6:

MM-nominal-semidetached = 3*(KSLOC)^1.12 =
  = 3* (4287.449)^1.12 = 35,090 MM
Effort-adjustment =  1.15 * 1.0 * 1.65 * 1.11 * 1.0 * 1.15 *
    1.0 * 0.86 * 1.0 * 0.86 * 1.0 * 0.95 * 0.91 * 1.0 * 1.0
    = 1.54869
MM-adjusted = 35,090 * 1.54869 = 54,343.6 Man-Months
            = 4,528.6 Man-years of effort to (re)develop
If average salary = $56,286/year, and overhead = 2.40, then:
Development cost = 56286*2.4*4528.6 = $611,757,037

In short, it would actually cost about $612 million (US) to re-develop the Linux kernel.

Why is this estimate so much larger than Molnar's original estimate? The answer is that SLOCCount presumes that it's dealing with an "average" piece of software (i.e., a typical application) unless it's given parameters that tell it otherwise. This is usually a reasonable default; almost nothing is as hard to develop as an operating system kernel. But operating system kernels are so much harder to develop that, if you include that difficulty into the calculation, the effort estimations go way up. This difficulty shows up in the nominal equation - semidetached is fundamentally harder, and thus has a larger exponent in its estimation equation than the default for basic COCOMO. This difficulty also shows up in factors such as "complexity"; the task the kernel does is fundamentally hard. The strong capabilities of analysts and developers, use of modern practices, and programming language experience all help, but they can only partly compensate; it's still very hard to develop a modern operating system kernel.

This difference is smoothed over in my paper More than a Gigabuck because that paper includes a large number of applications. Some of the applications would cost less than was estimated, while others would cost more; in general you'd expect that by computing the costs over many programs the differences would be averaged out. Providing that sort of information for every program would have been too time-consuming for the limited time I had available to write that paper, and I often didn't have that much information anyway. If I do such a study again, I might treat the kernel specially, since the kernel's size and complexity makes it reasonable to treat specially. SLOCCount actually has options that allow you to provide the parameters for more accurate estimates, if you have the information they need and you're willing to take the time to provide them. Since the nominal factor is 3, the adjustment for this situation is 1.54869, and the exponent for semidetached projects is 1.12, just providing SLOCCount with the option "--effort 4.646 1.12" would have created a more accurate estimate. But as you can see, it takes much more work to use this more detailed estimation model, which is why many people don't do it. For many situations, a rough estimate is really all you need; Molnar certainly didn't need a more exact estimate to make his point. And being able to give a rough estimate when given little information is quite useful.

In the end, Ingo Molnar's response is still exactly correct. Offering $50K for something that would cost would millions to redevelop, and is actively used and supported, is absurd.

It's interesting to note that there are already several kernels with BSD licenses: the *BSDs (particularly FreeBSD, OpenBSD, and NetBSD). These are fine operating systems for many purposes, indeed, my website currently runs on OpenBSD. But clearly, if there is a monetary offer to buy Linux code, the Linux kernel developers must be doing something right. Certainly, from a market share perspective, Linux-based systems are far more popular than BSD-based systems. If you just want a kernel licensed under a BSD-style license, you know where to find them.*

It's worth noting that these approaches only estimate development cost, not value. All proprietary developers invest in development with the presumption that the value of the resulting product (as captured from license fees, support fees, etc.) will exceed the development cost -- if not, they're out of business. Thus, since the Linux kernel is being actively sustained, it's only reasonable to presume that its value far exceeds this development estimate. In fact, the kernel's value probably well exceeds this estimate of simply redevelopment cost.

It's also worth noting that the Linux kernel has grown substantially. That's not surprising, given the explosion in the number of peripherals and situations that it supports. In Estimating Linux's size, I used a Linux distribution released in March 2000, and found that the Linux kernel had 1,526,722 physical source lines of code. In More than a Gigabuck, the Linux distribution had been released on April 2001, and its its kernel (version 2.4.2) was 2,437,470 physical source lines of code. At that point, this Linux distribution would have cost more than $1 Billion (a Gigabuck) to redevelop. The much newer and larger Linux kernel considered here, with far more drivers and capabilities than the one in that paper, now has 4,287,449 physical source lines of code, and is starting to approach a Gigabuck of effort all by itself. And that's just the kernel. There are other components that weren't included More than a Gigabuck (such as that are now common in Linux distributions, which are also large and represent massive investments of effort. More than a Gigabuck noted the massive rise in size and scale of OSS/FS systems, and that distributions were rapidly growing in invested effort; this brief analysis is evidence that the trend continues.

In short, the amount of effort that today's OSS/FS programs represent is rather amazing. Carl Sagan's phrase "billions and billions," which he applied to astronomical objects, easily applies to the effort (measured in U.S. dollars) now invested in OSS/FS programs.

A Postscript

I'd like to thank Ingo Molnar for doing the original analysis (using SLOCCount) that triggered this paper. Indeed, I'm always delighted to see people doing analysis instead of just guesswork. Thanks for doing the analysis! This paper is not in any way an attack on Molnar's work; Molnar computed a quick estimate, and this paper simply uses more data to refine his effort estimation further.

Feel free to see my home page at You may also want to look at my paper More than a Gigabuck: Estimating GNU/Linux's Size, my article Why OSS/FS? Look at the Numbers!, and my papers and book on how to develop secure programs.

© Copyright 2004 David A. Wheeler. All rights reserved.


How Much is the Linux Kernel Worth? | 249 comments | Create New Account
Comments belong to whoever posts them. Please notify us of inappropriate comments.
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 08:37 AM EDT
If any....

[ Reply to This | # ]

How Much is the Linux Kernel Worth?
Authored by: gormanly on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 08:46 AM EDT
Easy: it's priceless, and the GPL ensures it stays that way...

[ Reply to This | # ]

Was this article cynical ?
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 08:54 AM EDT
Oscar Wilde's definition of a cynic: "they know the cost of everything and
the value of nothing. ..."

The Linux kernel is actually priceless, and a fabulous gift to mankind.

PS I understand David's motives were pure. Thanks for the insight.

[ Reply to This | # ]

How Much is the Linux Kernel Worth?
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 08:57 AM EDT
$50000 was far too low, but even $100 million probably wouldn't cut it. I doubt
IBM (as a copyright holder) would be willing to give it away for that, it's
worth far more to them anually as it is....

[ Reply to This | # ]

How Much Linux Kernels could MS create?
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 09:01 AM EDT
Isn't is amazing to think that, at David Wheeler's given cost, MS could
theoretically develop something like 100 Linux kernels just with its sleeping

Yet MS is barely able to sustain Windows plus variants, and has renounced to
further develop Internet Explorer.
Either it means that in regards of MS efficiency the Linux kernel value is
severly underevaluated, or MS greediness
is pathological.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Off Topic items
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 09:03 AM EDT
Please use a html link
<a href="[website]"> title </a>

[ Reply to This | # ]

Man years?
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 09:17 AM EDT
So it would take 4,528.6 Man-years of effort to (re)develop and it takes SCO
25,000 man years to find code ... does not compute!!


[ Reply to This | # ]

Wrong - Linux is worthless - sort of
Authored by: eamacnaghten on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 09:30 AM EDT
Hang on - before the flames start, let me explain...

Any stock item in a store can have up to three values associated with it...

  • Spent cost - or the amount of money you needed to fork out to buy the thing in the first place
  • Replacement cost - the amount of money you would need to fork out to get another one should this one be sold, stolen, destroyed etc
  • Sale cost - the amount of money you would get if you sold it

I cannot think of any other cost for any item anywhere. Now let us take a look at Linux....

  • Spent cost - Zero. I have many copies of many versions of Linux floating around my office and none of them cost me anything. I know many people in the same situation, and probably most Groklaw readers are.
  • Replacement cost - Zero. It does not cost me anything to get replacement copies of Linux. See above.
  • Sales Cost - Zero. I cannot give any of my copies of Linux away, and I certainly could not sell the CDs - certainly not with anyone being able to get it elsewhere cost-free anyway.
Do not get me wrong, I am not saying there is no money to be made from Linux, or Open Source products in general, I am simply saying that Linux, in strict materialistic sense, is worthless. I do not see a contradiction there. In fact it's "worthlessness" is one of it's key attractions, that you can use it without being answerable to some kind of IP police.

What Jeff V. Merkey wants to buy is control of Linux. He is a landgrabber. It was people like him that gave cartographers such a bad name in old England (they used to draw maps for the rich gentry which were used to proove that common land belonged to them). However, software developers are not stupid and are wise to this kind of shinanigins. He seems to be on a bit of a fools errand anyway as not only is all the developers umlikely to sell out, but contributors like IBM, Novell and so on have company/shareholder motives not to as well.

Web Sig: Eddy Currents (residing on the planet Magrathea :-))

[ Reply to This | # ]

Linus should have took him up on the offer
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 09:35 AM EDT
and let him have a snapshot of the 1.0 kernel. That would have been funny!

[ Reply to This | # ]

Applies to kernel 2.0 also?
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 09:49 AM EDT
It looks like the original offer also applies to the 2.0 versions, which is
somewhat dated by now. <P> Still I'd consider $50K a silly suggestion...

[ Reply to This | # ]

How Much is the Linux Kernel Worth?
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 09:52 AM EDT
If someone actually had a serious intent to produce a proprietary version of
Linux, they would probably figure out that BSD has done 90% (or more) of the
work for them already; it just needs a Linux binary API. Remember, the BSD
licence allows you to make proprietary derivatives.

[ Reply to This | # ]

How Much is the Linux Kernel Worth?
Authored by: blacklight on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 10:02 AM EDT
"We offer to the sum of $50,000.00 US for a one time license to
the Linux Kernel Source for a single snapshot of a single Linux version by
release number. This offer must be accepted by **ALL** copyright holders and
this snapshot will subsequently convert the GPL license into a BSD style license
for the code."

I would refer to this offer as "trying to get something for nothing".
This offer, to be successful, requires a presumption that the copyrights holders
of the kernel are smart enough to contribute their excellent code, but not smart
enough to realize that the offerer is trying to rip them off - a pretty big
presumption, even though I say so myself. IBM will be thrilled to know that its
code contributions to Linux are worth less than $50K, by the way.

[ Reply to This | # ]

hero or zero?
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 10:10 AM EDT
An item is only worth what people are willing to pay for it.

As there seems to be only one offer of 50k, then that, IMO, is its's current

The fact that people generally want it for free would put another price on it
(priceless ;-) ), but others may opt for worthless, but thats another story...

[ Reply to This | # ]

Just a thought for User Friendly readers
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 10:25 AM EDT
Notice how much Jeff Merkey sounds like Steph Murkey? Probably coincidence, but
from the offer, it sounds like they were separated at birth.

-- Alma

[ Reply to This | # ]

  • Birth? - Authored by: overshoot on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 03:17 PM EDT
Mr. Merkey seems to have a history of trying to get something for nothing
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 10:26 AM EDT
He and his business associates settled a stolen code suit with Novell in 1998.
His quote in the press release indicates an
almost childish lack of understanding of his obligations to his former employer
relating to the code he developed while employed by them.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Google Mr Merkey
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 10:35 AM EDT

1. Wolf Mountain and Wolf Mountain Group which appears to be the former name of Timpanogas (lots of news stories on this).

There are tons of interesting news stories about how it split up from Novell, got involved in litigation with them, claimed to have got $50 million of venture capital funding (funny how this number keeps on coming up and coming up in SCOX, in PointServe, etc). Interesting Yahoo post with some quoted.

In 2002, Timpan ogas Sells Intellectual Property To Canopy Group

2. In LKML you can find posts by him discussing the GPL in October 2000, and November-December 2000. In the latter posts, November-December 2000, you can see him discussing a super viral theory of derivative works.

In this he claims, if you've seen the code (in his example of a GPL work), then new code you develop, even if it contains nothing of the original, is, according to him, a derivative work.

See his stuff here .

3. Around late September 2001, you'll also find him equating hacking to terrorism, I quote, "When people are crashing planes into buildings and killing people by the thousands, hacking laws should be tough"

[ Reply to This | # ]

How Much is the Linux Kernel Worth?
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 10:41 AM EDT
Priceless is the word, and I would have to say that computers are so all
encompasing in this day and age that legislation (globally) should dictate that
an operating system MUST be GPL'd for general use, as otherwise too much power
is concentrated into one companies hands.

The world really needs to have all computers running the SAME operating system
so that all applications developers can develope for a common platform. Windows
has proven the benefits of this approach, but also highlighted the need for the
above GPL requirement, as power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,
although I believe MS was corrupt before they became all powerful.


[ Reply to This | # ]

How Much is the Linux Kernel Worth?
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 10:46 AM EDT
Value: priceless, as long as you don't start asking money.

Obvious maybe, but worth mentioning...

[ Reply to This | # ]

How Much is the Linux Kernel Worth?
Authored by: phrostie on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 10:52 AM EDT
this only reconfirms that it is SCO that has put GPLd code in Unix Ware.
that is why they want it BSD'd.
that is why they want the code declared theirs.
this is why they will not show the common code.
they do have common code, but want to see all of AIX so they can say It's IBMs
fault, not theirs.
until they get this they can't show it.

Oh I have slipped the surly bonds of DOS
and danced the skies on Linux silvered wings.

[ Reply to This | # ]

How Much is the Linux Kernel Worth?
Authored by: Peter Smith on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 10:57 AM EDT
One can only applaud David Wheeler's lucid exposition.
That said, I remain convinced his estimates are far to low because he fails to
take into account the real world difficulty of launching such a project in a
finite pool of programmers against well established and aggressive competition.

In other words his calculations assume the project is initiated in a nearly
ideal vacuum.

As an experienced project manager my first thoughts would be
- where and how do I find a sufficiently large body of very competent and
enthusiastic programmers?
- where and how do I find the super competent managers who will lead this body?
- how on earth do I retain their skills, energy and enthusiasm through the dark
periods of predictable project disasters and merciless competitor onslaught?

To do this I will have to pay far above the going rate, easily doubling the

In the mean time how do I maintain investor confidence? Only a miracle would
retain their confidence in such a venture. So I must factor in the cost of
losing investor confidence.

Also not included in his calculations is the value of the 'brand'.

The marketing cost of establishing a brand value equal to that of Linux would,
in my opinion, more than double again the cost.

In fact the market barriers to the entry of a new proprietary OS competitor are
so high that failure must be considered likely. How does one calculate the cost
of trying to overcome these barriers?

These considerations, I think, give a better idea of the real worth of Linux.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Testing, testing, testing.
Authored by: SpaceLifeForm on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 11:04 AM EDT
Even this model of COCOMO is flawed because the model assumes a method of development that plainly is not used in the development of the kernel. See here for more info on that.

But, more importantly (and why the Linux kernel is so good), is the amount of testing that goes on. And this testing is ongoing during the development process even when things are known to be broken. And this testing is done multiple times by multiple testers on multiple platforms of various configurations. There is no way that the level of testing that occurs during Linux development is even closely approximated in any COCOMO model.

So, while the COCOMO that David Wheeler built is quite useful, his answer clearly has to be low.
Billions and Billions would be more accurate.

[ Reply to This | # ]

MS-DOS bought with $50,000 - Someone wants to be the next Bill Gates?
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 11:10 AM EDT
I think the Linux kernel is priceless. It is the blood, sweat, and tears (of joy
and struggle) of many contributors. And I am glad it is protected by the GPL. If
Linus wanted to sell out, he could, but he couldn't take his product with him.
It is left for others to enjoy. What a self-less attitude. Differs from the
snobbish self centered whiney "I-am-better-than-you" attitude of Steve
Ballmer and Bill Gates. (They are weak men.)

What we see here is a classic retro to the time Bill Gates bought MS-DOS for
$50,000 from Seattle Computer

I think we have learned a bit from that mistake of mankind.

[ Reply to This | # ]

  • Aha! - Authored by: Ed L. on Thursday, October 14 2004 @ 01:37 AM EDT
How Much is that Kernel That's Not Windows?
Authored by: Nick on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 12:20 PM EDT
How much is that kernel that's not Windows?
The one with the open source trail.

How much is that kernel that's not Windows?
I do hope that kernel's not for sale

[ Reply to This | # ]

Don't give THEM any ideas!!!
Authored by: rsi on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 12:25 PM EDT
Don't we have enough problems with SCO?

Those numbers are too hard for little Billy Gates to resist!!! ;^)

[ Reply to This | # ]

$612 million is to high
Authored by: dobbo on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 12:50 PM EDT

I would suggest that some of David Wheeler's assumptions have caused his redevelopment cost of $612 million to be to high. His analysis uses a commercial estimate of of cost. But a competitors that wantted to enter a market space would likly only develop a subset of the target's functionality, but a subset designed to target the lion's share of that market space. If developing a Linux alternative who would bother to support the IBM's s390 platforms, IBM sort of have their foot in the door on any OS sales for the s390.

My (quick and dirty) calculations of the platform SLOC using

cd /usr/src/linux/arch; for dir in *; do echo -n $dir; wc -l `find $dir -name *.c -o -name *.h -o -name *.S -o -name *.s` | tail -1; done

suggest a total of 1,048,977 lines. If only half of those lines counted were code lines this gives something like 500,000 SLOC were only 38,000 are needed to support the i386 architecture, as pointed out, the platform with the largest install base.

If we take as working figure 462,000 SLOC that would not have to be developed in a competitor product then the MM-normal-semi-detached figure is 2894.15 too high; giving 4,155.1 man-years. Plug this number into the salary calculation and we find that the cost is now only $561 million. A substantial saving of over $5 million.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many devices that are not available for the i386 platform. Devices for Sun's SBus for example, which only found on the SPARC platforms. The drivers branch of the Linux kernel source tree is over twice the size of the arch branch. There is also a great deal of redundancy in the file-systems branch. A competitor to Linux would only need one journaled file-system.

David Wheeler also counted code that is obsolete. Not just driver's for the i386 platform who's hardware is no longer available, but also parts like ipchains or devfs, which have been replaced by better systems. When developing a replacement one does not need to develop all the blind alleys and dead ends of the original. When added together there are many millions of dollars of savings to be made.

I'd like to thank David Wheeler (and before him Ingo Molnar) for making me think about the cost of Linux. As I read this paper I saw assumptions with it that I didn't like, just like he did with Molnar's work. I add this to the public debate and welcome comments, especially from David Wheeler and Ingo Mlnar, on the error of my ways. In my mind the real cost of re-developing Linux lies somewhere between the two.

Of course I don't think anyone is going to attempt to make yet another product for a saturated i386 market space, there are already a wealth of alternate OS to Linux: Microsoft's Windows, the BSDs, SCO's offerings and Sun's Solaris x86 that I can think of. But thinking of the competition has lead me to see something else. An answer to 'Why did Microsoft and Sun take a SCO license when they did?' Of course Sun has always been a big licensee of Unix, but their timing sucked.

It gave SCO the money they needed to hang themselves. If PJ's (and others) analysis is correct SCO appears to have tied the noose around its own neck. We are now just waiting for the jury to give the nod, and the judges to pull the lever releasing the trap door. When SCO is kicking in its final death throws Microsoft and Sun will be able to point and say 'Look, the GPL did that; do you want that to happen to you?'

Of course we all know that it is not the GPL that is the cause, but SCO's failure to abide by the license, even after many had pointed out the error of their ways. So lets start now getting the counter claim evidence. If you worked for a company that was found in breach of license and taken to the cleaners, lets get that case in the public eye, especially if was by Sun or Microsoft.

I also think we need to hear from anyone who has suffered because their software supplier was found in breach of license and had to change/port/re-license/whatever as a result. In the post-SCO time-frame it might be worth pointing to the licenses of SCO/Caldera Linux and say 'Look, these guys were hardly effected at all; that's the GPL at work!'

[ Reply to This | # ]

Tax of GPL on the world?!
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 12:54 PM EDT
I'm a bit concerned to everyone squealing gleefully about how much the kernel is worth. Other people have already spoken intelligently about what can and can't be measured, so I won't go there.

But one of the standard talking-points in bashing the GPL is that "all or most of that programmer effort has been stolen from those programmers' employer." According to this argument (which I definitely do _not_ agree with), you've just proven that the Linux kernel has in fact gouged the global economy of a half a billion dollars of revenue.

Expect this to be on MS's website by the end of the week.

[ Reply to This | # ]

How Much is the Linux Kernel Worth?
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 01:02 PM EDT
My biggest problem with this theory is the idea that anyone would actually
re-develope the ENTRIE Linux kernel.

50k was offered for a piece of bundled software; however, if you were to decide
to develop on your own, there is no way you would try an put the entire kernel
tree into you project. No, you would only develop those things you would
actually need/use/be able to resell. No one would add all the HAM radio or
legacy file system support into a kernel they were developing for an embedded
watch calculator.

Also, his asumption is that you would start from scrath. Why? You would start
from the most advanced source which has a licence/price/features for which you
believe will work best for you.

[ Reply to This | # ]

How Much is the Linux Kernel Worth?
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 01:08 PM EDT
Actually Carl Segan never used the phrase "Billion and Billions". That
was Johny Carson on the Tonight Show imitating Carl Sagan. I read it in one of
Carl's books.


[ Reply to This | # ]

Longer to compare than to develop?
Authored by: dracoverdi on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 01:17 PM EDT
Has anyone else notice that man-years to redevelop in the above estimate are
significantly less than the SCO estimate of the time required to check it for
potential copyright violations?

The problem with ignorance is that the afflicted are unaware of their ailment

[ Reply to This | # ]

Echoes of Aggaziz
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 01:48 PM EDT
The naturalist Louis Aggaziz was once offered a large sum of money to do a
series of lectures at Harvard. He replied, "I cannot afford to waste my
time making money."

Think about that for a few minutes. When you get it, you get an idea of where
the kernel developers are coming from.


[ Reply to This | # ]

You can argue all you want about the GPL
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 02:34 PM EDT
The same arguement was made for Bill Gates Back in the day. What he did, behind
the scenes, was illegal, stupid, illogical. But he made his money, and nobody
can prove anything.

Now sure, anyone can take code, not comply with the GPL, and re-release it
somewhere else, perhaps in propriatary code. And you may think nobody will ever
find it. Maybe not. And if someone does discover the code, maybe someone will do
something about it, maybe not. You may gamble. You can laugh and scorn all you

The point is, the GPL helped bring Linux and Open Source where it is today. I
have a working Linux desktop, free from the bonds of Microsoft. And most people
who actively smite and talk-down the GPL hate that I am free from the bonds of
Microsoft. So sorry to see you cry. Wah, you little sissies.

[ Reply to This | # ]

How Much is the Linux Kernel Worth?
Authored by: dmac on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 02:38 PM EDT
A simple observation: computers and the underlying code(s)and systems that
operate them are becoming the underlying language of human social and
intellectual intercourse; and will ultimately be public domain. They will be
infinitely valuable and valueless all at the same time, in a similar fashon to
Spanish, English, Polish or any other human "language".

It's an interesting exercise to calculate the economic value of such tools, but
it's like trying to evaluate development and maintenance of English--
essentially an organic automatic and ongoing thing. The only real control (read
"profit") to be made from English would be by publishers of
dictionarys who keep track of this organic evoloution and document it. I guess
you could measure that.

Linux, DOS, Fortran, Windows variants etc. are tools through which communication
is possible with basic computing machinery and ultimately back to the human
user. As human communication tools they are living organisms. My sense of
history tells me that FOSS is inevitable. If it came out any other way we would
be paying royalties to Meriam Webster or Funk & Wagnall now. Living language
can't be controlled.

In a few hundred years folks will look back at Linus and he will be somewhere in
there with Gutenberg in status as the catalyst who enabled computer languages
into the public domain the way movable type unleashed the printed word 600
years ago.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Selling your freedom
Authored by: rsmith on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 02:45 PM EDT
You can only sell your freedom once, and whatever you get for it isn't worth it.

Intellectual Property is an oxymoron.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Buy it?
Authored by: Nick_UK on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 03:01 PM EDT
Firstly, congratulations on the longest URL I have EVER
seen in my life ;)

OK, so who owns the 'kernel source' and is the postion to
accept such a proposal? If I had even submitted a one
line fix to it, I am part owner... let alone all the real

The Linux kernel cannot be 'sold' as such anyway,


[ Reply to This | # ]

Development cost != worth
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 03:08 PM EDT
Get real, people. $50k is a reasonable offer for a proprietary license to use
the linux kernel. Many GPLed products are also distrubuted under other non-GPL
licenses by their authors.

Also, ask anyone trying to buy a company how they value the worth of the
company. The previous development cost doesn't factor in to it, just the
possible return over the next couple years.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Authored by: Groklaw Lurker on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 04:13 PM EDT
Linux is priceless and the GPL is the reason.

Because the Linux Kernel is released under the GPL, all distributed
modifications, including any that are sold commercially, are also automatically
licensed under the GPL.

For this reason, every improvement that is made to the Linux Kernel for sale or
distribution to others is automatically contributed to the FOSS community at
large. This is why Linux was evolving so rapidly even before IBM began making
massive contributions to the Kernel. This is why the Linux Kernel will continue
to evolve at a clip that outpaces every commercial operating system on the
market today.

At what value could the future work of untold thousands of programmers over the
next several decades be estimated? I don't think it can be estimated. Most of
them will be volunteers, many of whom are not yet born. Linux is an evolving
paradigm, a development model that is likely still in its infancy from which
unguessable riches and freedom may spring.

Linux is priceless. Period.

(GL) Groklaw Lurker
End the tyranny, eliminate software patents.

[ Reply to This | # ]

How Much is the Linux Kernel Worth?
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 04:26 PM EDT
One may actually ask how much the Linux kernel is worth from
the perspective of what one is using it for. On a desktop
PC, it's probably worth what ever you paid. If one is out
on the ocean, on a Navy warship staking sailors lives on its
proper functioning, it might be worth significantly more!

[ Reply to This | # ]

How Much is the Linux Kernel Worth?
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 04:31 PM EDT
Figure that an investor expects a 12 percent return on investment, and the 2.6
kernel has been out for a couple of years, presumable revenues before taxes and
interest should be in the neighborhood of 765 million.

[ Reply to This | # ]

Competitive develoment
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 04:38 PM EDT
One of the things left out of such an analysis is that most commercial
development projects cannot afford competitive development. With open source
projects, it is not unusual to have several different projects all attempting to
solve the same problem, with a few of them eventually eclipsing the others based
on some competitive factors that are not always closely related to how well the
project solves the problem. On large open source projects it is not unusual to
have multiple patches or approaches to solving a problem, these often compete
based on some criteria near and dear to those involved with the project.

With the Linux kernel, such competitions are fairly common. While performance is
perhaps the most common criteria for such competitions, some other criteria do
frequently intrude, such as, simplicity or "cleanness", robustness,
most bugs fixed, and even "does the 'right' thing".

With commercial pressures to get a product out the door, commercial analysts,
designers, and coders, generally restrict their efforts to their best guess.
Competitions are viewed as wastes of effort and money, introducing
inefficiencies and making workers less productive.

There are other values to the Linux kernel that I am not certain commercial
efforts at redevelopment could come close to reproducing. One example is ease of
customization, which is largely based on a modularity that is essential to large
opens source projects and which Microsoft claimed in court was not part of its

[ Reply to This | # ]

  • Huh? - Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 07:30 PM EDT
    • Huh? - Authored by: Khym Chanur on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 11:50 PM EDT
      • Huh? - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, October 14 2004 @ 03:24 AM EDT
        • He certainly did. - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, October 14 2004 @ 12:34 PM EDT
        • Examples - Authored by: Anonymous on Thursday, October 14 2004 @ 12:36 PM EDT
          • Examples - Authored by: kenryan on Thursday, October 14 2004 @ 12:55 PM EDT
The value of Linux is the value of Freedom
Authored by: cybervegan on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 05:18 PM EDT
Greedy people assume that everyone else is as greedy as they are; they think
that everything has a price. I think that this is the GPL showing its true
worth - that once it's given, Free software cannot be taken back; it's a product
of pure self-lessness.

This offer was probably a cynical attempt to derail Linux - for if it had
worked, it would surely be the end of it - slowly eroding it's Free nature, as
proprietary interests crept in, forking and weakening it, until it became as
weak and fragmented as all the old Unix flavours. Maybe PJ's old saying
"follow the money" will yield some insights?

I for one am heartened by the integrity shown by the kernel developers in
wholeheartedly refusing to budge. We knew they were good guys, but this proves

The GPL truly is a thing of beauty and power - the closest thing to real magick
this side of Mordor.


Software source code is a bit like underwear - you only want to show it off in
public if it's clean and tidy. Refusal could be due to embarrassment or shame...

[ Reply to This | # ]

this estimate is far to low
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 06:02 PM EDT
this is probably a reasonable estimate for replicating a single version of the
kernel, but the kernel hasn't just had a single release.

a better estimate would look at all the releases (IIRC during the 2.6 kernel
series about 1/3 of the kernel has been re-written) so even if you were just
looking at 2.6 and completely ignoring all releases before that the development
cost would be about 30% higher.

this also helps address the error inherent in just measuring lines of code in a
project that encourages programmers to reduce the lines of code nessasary to do
the job

[ Reply to This | # ]

How Much is the Linux Kernel Worth?
Authored by: nowster on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 06:11 PM EDT
There is a danger in this, of course.

SCO: You see here, Judge, that this Unix derivative is worth more than $600
million. We want some of that. Give it to us.

(Aside: Ever noticed that SCO lawyers call the judges "Judge" and the
IBM lawyers refer to them as "your honour"?)

[ Reply to This | # ]

Not as bad as you might think.
Authored by: Observer on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 06:13 PM EDT
I think the offer of $50K for a BSD style "snapshot" of the kernel is ludicrous for legal and philosophical reasons, but purely on the basis of price, it's not as bad as you might think.

Consider that people routinely buy software packages for considerably less than it cost to develop the software in the first place. If I had only one customer (as would be the case in a "for hire" developed package), then the sale price has to be the "worth" of the entire package, which naturally has to be more than my cost to develop it. However, if I have many potential customers, then I can set any price I want, down to the UMC, or the price differential between producing "n" and "n + 1" copies of the item in question.

So, if this were a proprietary product which I had created, and someone walked up to me and offered me $50K that I wouldn't have otherwise received, then it's still another $50K in my pocket. I can still sell more copies of my software if I want, and if the potential market is big enough, someone else selling copies isn't going to hurt me very much. If I plan on making my money off services, then having another person selling products is only going to increase my potential base.

However, this is not just another proprietary product. Therefore, the problem is not the price tag (it could be $10B for that matter), but the idea of violating the copyrights of countless kernel developers. It's the idea that they have intentionally released their code under the GPL with the understanding that they would profit from all future enhancements of their software. It's the future value of the software and all potential enhancements that is at question here.

The Observer

[ Reply to This | # ]

IBM to spend $1 billion on Linux in 2001
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 07:40 PM EDT

How does this 600 million estimate square with stories such as this one?

[ Reply to This | # ]

How Much is the Linux Kernel Worth?
Authored by: Anonymous on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 07:51 PM EDT
As others have already mentioned, the Linux kernel is priceless.

By having the Linux kernel available, the GNU/Linux operating system a large
number of Free Software/Open Source applications are available.
Also, it has given birth to a commercial market which I think has grown into a
multi-billion dollar market.

Being the case that Linux is Open Source, it will always be available and a
market for it.

Regarding the $50,000 price, I think that not even Seattle Computers would
sell the original DOS now.


[ Reply to This | # ]

You missed an important point - please read
Authored by: Night Flyer on Wednesday, October 13 2004 @ 10:37 PM EDT
If the cost of Linux is $612,000,000 and, hypothetically, ten million copies are
sold, Linus et al would have to charge $61 each to break even (before packaging
and distribution costs).

If 'Microsoft Windows' cost $2.7 billion, and it sold 90 million copies, it
would have to charge $30 to break even (before packaging and distribution


1.) Even at $100 each, no wonder Microsoft has so much money left over for
lawsuits and lawyers.

2.) Note that I believe that Microsoft is not as cost efficient at writing code
as I think Linux contributors are. Also, note that Microsoft needs to spend
some of its profits writing security patches as well.

3.) Microsoft needs to clean its windows.

Veritas Vincit: Truth Conquers

[ Reply to This | # ]

Groklaw © Copyright 2003-2013 Pamela Jones.
All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective owners.
Comments are owned by the individual posters.

PJ's articles are licensed under a Creative Commons License. ( Details )