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Linux kernel R&D worth over 1bn euros

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How much would it cost the European Union to cobble together the Linux kernel from scratch?

The development costs would reach over a billion euros (or about £900m, or $1.4bn USD), according to researchers from the University of Oviedo, Spain. Jesús García-García and Mª Isabel Alonso de Magdaleno are set to present this open source thought experiment at the European Union's Conference on Corporate R&D next month.

The pair calculated those intangible Linux kernel costs using the Constructive Cost Model 81 (COCOMO 81), an algorithmic model usually applied to estimate the cost of traditional software development projects. A base salary of 31,040 euros per year was punched in, based on the EC's Eurostat figures for 2006.

The results came to an estimated total value for the Linux kernel version 2.6.30 (released in December 2009) of 1,025,553,430 euros. About 985 developers would be needed over a span of just under 14 years, the researchers claim.

The research and development expenses need to build the Linux kernel in this alternative universe would have risen significantly over the last few years. The research claims that annual R&D expenses in 2005 (going from version 2.6.11 to 2.6.16) would be about 80m euros (~ £70m, $108m), whereas in 2008 (versions 2.6.25-2.6.30), the cost would have risen to about 228m euros (£200m, $308m). This is consistent with the growth of R&D expenses in the EU's IT sector, the researchers say.

Putting a traditional cost model on the Linux kernel doesn't quite make sense, as the researchers freely admit, but their model does help to illustrate the enormous value in the project.

The report concludes by saying that despite a lack of book value, commons-based innovation should receive a "higher level of official recognition that would set it as an alternative to decision-makers." A copy of the research can be found here. ®

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