The open source Linux operating system kernel that powers innumerable distributions turns 25 years old this year.
Sporting just 10,000 or so lines of code in 1991 when Finnish CompSci Master’s student Linus Torvalds released the kernel to the public as a hobby project, Linux has grown up considerably in the last quarter of a century.
It has swollen to just under 22 million lines of code, and is found everywhere from Google Android mobile devices to home broadband routers and virtual machines.
Torvalds is still the torch-bearer for Linux but is trying to move away from having a final, and often rather rude, say on what code goes into the kernel. Now 46 and a family man, Torvalds has backed off not only from coding for the kernel but also signing off patches for it.
Just 0.2 percent of the total number of kernel patches, or 169, were signed off by Torvalds this year.
Torvalds can nowadays take a backseat with much more ease thanks to the thousands of developers hacking away on Linux, many of them being paid to do so by hundreds of large IT companies.
The Linux Foundation has added up some of the stats, noting that since 2005, around 14,000 developers from over 1300 companies have contributed to the kernel.
It is being developed as a common resource on a massive scale by organisations that are often fierce competitors in other areas.
Large IT giants such as Samsung, IBM, Google, AMD, Cisco and Intel are now official Linux hacking outfits. This also means that the volume of contributions from unpaid developers has declined, dropping to just 7.7 percent this year.
This is because Linux kernel developers are in short supply, and those who are able to get their code into the mainline repository will be inundated with job offers from large tech corporations, according to the foundation.
It noted that while corporate participation in the development process is crucial, no single company dominates the kernel development. This means there is no one entity that can push the kernel development in a particular direction and restrict what others can do with it, although they can improve it for their own specific needs.
Having less volunteer developers could become a problem, however, if it leads to a shortage of kernel programmers in the future.
Short release cycles for the kernel are critically important for Linux in order to bring in new code and features quickly to stable releases, the foundation said.
But Linux development is showing no signs of slowing down, with an increasing rate of change as many more developers and companies take part in the project.
“The Linux kernel is one of the largest and most successful open source projects that has ever come about,” according to the Linux Foundation.
“Above all, 25 years of kernel history show that sustained, cooperative effort can bring about common resources that no group would have been able to develop on its own."