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Giving Thanks to Linux and Open Source

As you carve into the turkey next week, be sure to give thanks to all the people that make the Penguin possible.

When you think of Thanksgiving, what images come into your mind? If you’re a typical American and have visions of Norman Rockwell paintings engraved into your consciousness like the rest of us, it’s Roast Turkey, mom’s doctored Pepperidge Farm Stuffing (Just say no to Stove-Top!), cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes and pumpkin pie, naturally. Which ends of course with the usual gut-busting feeling from over eating accompanied by the eventual belt-loosening and football watching on grandma’s couch. Aaaaaaaaaaah.

But this year, I’ve decided to switch gears. I’m going to be doing my turkey Puerto Rican style — Pavochon Ahumada rubbed with garlic adobo and smoked over hardwood for several hours on my Weber Bullet, ditching the stuffing for Arroz con Gandules, and am giving thanks to a different bird — the Penguin, and everyone who made him possible.

No matter what Linux distribution or Open Source-based OS you use, be it Ubuntu, openSUSE, Fedora, Debian, OpenSolaris, RHEL/CentOS, The BSDs, Mac OS X, or any myriad of others, absolutely none of this would be possible without the determined and often thankless work of thousands upon thousands of programmers. Recently, a study undertaken by the Linux Foundation determined that Fedora was valued at about 10 billion dollars in terms of real world development cost if the labor hours were translated into actual greenbacks spent for a comparable closed source product. I’m not sure if that’s entirely accurate — it could very well be much higher than that, since this estimate is not including all the years and years of work that went into the entire stack prior to Red Hat’s involvement, and is a strictly by the numbers estimation based on lines of code (204 million).

This estimate does not include 3rd-party external repositories not in the base distro, does not include the cost of code modifications between revisions, does not include collaborative development costs which increases man hours, and uses a median programmer salary of $75,000 per year with 2008 salary baseline, which I also think is far too conservative an estimate – programmers were a much higher paid group due to the lower costs of living 10 years ago, where a bulk of the code was developed, and this is not adjusting for inflation. The Linux kernel alone was valued at around $1.4 billion, which is also probably undervalued given salary estimates.

Any way you slice the roast beast this year, and no matter who’s numbers you use, we are talking about massive contributions. Be it from vendors like Red Hat, Canonical, Sun, Novell, HP and IBM who have contributed code they’ve paid for, the stalwart efforts of individual programmers who’ve never seen a dime for their work, organized efforts of not for profit entities like GNU/FSF, SPI, Apache and X.org, and countless others that would take me twenty pages to mention. You may have Free and Open Source OS and applications running on your system, and you might not have paid a dime for it, but this stuff had a real world cost associated with it.

So how do we give thanks to Open Source? Well, you can start by giving up some real money to the projects which actually produce this software for you. The Open Source Initiative receives charitable donations ), as does Software In the Public Interest the Free Software Foundation and the Apache Software Foundation. Any project that is listed on SourceForge can also be donated to — for example, for the popular Shareaza (application, there’s a “Donate” link under the name of the project on that page.

Note to the community: It would be awfully nice if someone could put together a web-based master database of project donation links, as a clearinghouse of sorts. It would be a serious project in and of itself, but it would be worthwhile.

If you value a particular Open Source project, chances are, they’ve got a donations site. And if you’re tight on money this year like everyone else is, but have programming or software QA, documentation and testing skills, you might want to consider joining an Open Source project as a volunteer.

So remember, when you’re piling on the gravy over your mashed potatoes, your cooked protein of choice, and drinking your favorite mulled spices beverage during this holiday season while reading your emails on your preferred Open Source OS, think about the people that made it possible — and give back, because Open Source is a two-way street.

Happy Holidays.

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