The Impressive Scope of the Linux Foundation in the 21st Century Digital Economy


This post was originally published on June 30, 2022 on Irving Wladawsky-Berger’s blog

Last week, the Linux Foundation held its North America Open Source Summit in Austin. The week-long summit included a large number of breakout sessions as well as several keynotes. Open Source Summit Europe will take place in Dublin in September and Open Source Summit Japan in Yokohama in December.

I’ve been closely involved with open, collaborative innovation and open source communities since the 1990s. In particular, I was asked to lead a new Linux initiative that IBM launched in January of 2000 to embrace Linux across all the company’s products and services.

At the time, Linux had already been embraced by the research, Internet, and supercomputing communities, but many in the commercial marketplace were perplexed by IBM’s decision. Over the next few years, we spent quite a bit of effort explaining to the business community why we were supporting Linux, which included a number of Linux commercials like this one with Muhammad Ali that ran in the 2006 Super Bowl. IBM also had to fight off a multi-billion dollar lawsuit for alleged intellectual property violations in its contributions to the development of Linux. Nevertheless, by the late 2000s, Linux had crossed the chasm to mainstream adoption, having been embraced by a large number of companies around the world.

In 2000, IBM, along with HP, Intel, and several other companies formed a consortium to support the continued development of Linux, and founded a new non-profit organization, the Open Source Development Labs (OSDL). In 2007, OSDL merged with the Free Standards Group (FSG) and became the Linux Foundation (LF). In 2011, the LF marked the 20th anniversary of Linux at its annual LinuxCon North America conference. I had the privilege of giving one of the keynotes at the conference in Vancouver, where I recounted my personal involvement with Linux and open source.

Over the next decade, the LF went through a major expansion. In 2017, its annual conferences were rebranded Open Source Summits to be more representative of LF’s more general open source mission beyond Linux. Then in April of 2021, the LF announced the formation of Linux Foundation Research, a new organization to better understand the opportunities to collaborate on the many open source activities that the LF was by then involved in. Hilary Carter joined the LF as VP of Research and leader of the new initiative.

A few months later, Carter created an Advisory Board to provide insights into emerging technology trends that could have a major impact on the growing number of LF open source projects, as well as to explore the role of open source to help address some of the world’s most pressing challenges. I was invited to become a member of the LF Research Advisory Board, an invitation I quickly accepted.

Having retired from IBM in 2007, I had become involved in a number of new areas, – such as cloud, blockchain, AI, and the emerging digital economy. As a result, I had not been much involved with the Linux Foundation in the 2010s, and continued to view LF as primarily overseeing the development of Linux. But, once I joined the Research Advisory Board and learned about the evolution of the LF over the previous decade, I was frankly surprised at the impressive scope of its activities. Let me summarize what I learned.

Once I joined the Research Advisory Board and learned about the evolution of the LF over the previous decade, I was frankly surprised at the impressive scope of its activities.

According to its website, the LF now has over 1,260 company members, including 14 Platinum and 19 Gold, and supports hundreds of open source projects. Some of the projects are focused on technology horizontals, others on industry verticals, and many are subprojects within a large open source project.

Technology horizontal areas include AI, ML, data & analytics; additive manufacturing; augmented & virtual reality; blockchain; cloud containers & virtualization; IoT & embedded; Linux kernel; networking & edge; open hardware; safety critical systems; security; storage; system administration; and Web & application development. Specific infrastructure projects include OpenSSF, – the Open Source Software Security Foundation; LF AI & Data, – whose mission is to build and support open source innovations in the AI & data domains ; and the Hyperledger Foundation, – which hosts a number of enterprise-grade blockchain subprojects, such as Hyperledger Cactus, – to help securely integrate different blockchains; Hyperledger Besu, – an Ethereum client for permissioned blockchains; and Hyperledger Caliper, – a blockchain benchmark tool to measure performance.

Industry vertical areas, include automotive & aviation; education & training; energy & resources; government & regulatory agencies; healthcare; manufacturing & logistics; media & entertainment; packaged goods; retail; technology; and telecommunication. Industry focused projects include LFEnergy, – aimed at the digitization of the energy sector to help reach decarbonization targets; Automotive Grade Linux, – to accelerate the development and adoption of a fully open software stack for the connected car; Chips Alliance, – to accelerate open source hardware development; Civil Infrastructure Platform, – to enable the development and use of software building blocks for civil infrastructure; LF Public Health, – to improve global health equity and innovation; and Academy Software Foundation, – which is focused on the creation of an open source ecosystem for the animation and visual effects industry and hosts a number of related subprojects such as OpenColorIO, – a color management framework; OpenCue, – a render management system; and OpenEXR, – the professional-grade image storage format of the motion picture industry.

The LF estimates that its sponsored projects have developed over one billion lines of open source code which support a significant percentage of the world’s mission critical infrastructures. These projects have created over $54 billion in economic value. A recent study by the European Commission estimated that in 2018, the economic impact of open source across all its member states was between €65 and €95 billion. To better understand the global economic impact of open source, LF Research is sponsoring a study led by Henry Chesbrough, UC Berkeley professor and fellow member of the Advisory Board.

Open source advances are totally dependent on the contributions of highly skilled professionals. The LF estimates that over 750 thousand developers from around 18 thousand contributing companies have been involved in its various projects around the world. To help train open source developers, the LF offers over 130 different courses in a variety of areas, including systems administration, cloud & containers, blockchain, and IoT & embedded development, as well as 25 certification programs.

In addition, the LF, in partnership with edX, – the open online learning organization created by Harvard and MIT – has been conducting an annual web survey of open source professionals and hiring managers to identify the latest trends in open source careers, the skills that are most in demand, what motivates open source professionals, how employers can attract and retain top talent, as well as diversity issues in the industry.

The 10th Annual Open Source Jobs Report was just published in June of 2022. The report found that there remains a shortage of qualified talent – 93% of hiring managers have difficulty finding experienced open source professionals; compensation has become a differentiating factor – 58% of managers have given salary increases to retain open source talent; certifications have hit a new level of importance – 69% of hiring managers are more likely to hire certified open source professionals; 63% of open source professionals believe open source runs most modern technology; and cloud skills are the most in demand, followed by Linux, DevOps, and security.

Finally, in her Austin keynote, Hilary Carter presented 10 quick facts about open source from LF Research:

53% of survey respondents contribute to open source because “it’s fun”;
86% of hiring managers say hiring open source talent is a priority for 2022;
2/3 of developers need more training to do their jobs;
The most widely used open source software is developed by only a handful of contributors, – 136 developers were responsible for more than 80% of the lines of code added to the top 50 packages;
45% of respondents reported that their employers heavily restrict or prohibit contributions to open source projects whether private or work related;
47% of organizations surveyed are using software bill of materials (SBOMs) today;
“You feel a sense of community and responsibility to shepherd this work and make it the best it can be;
1 in 5 professionals have been discriminated against of feel unwelcome;
People who don’t feel welcome in open source are from disproportionately underrepresented groups;
“When we have multiple people with varied backgrounds and opinions, we get better software”.

“Open source projects are here to stay, and they play a critical role in the ability for most organizations to deliver products and services to customers,” said the LF in its website. “As an organization, if you want to influence the open source projects that drive the success of your business, you need to participate. Having a solid contribution strategy and implementation plan for your organization puts you on the path towards being a good corporate open source citizen.”

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