Libre Software People's Front

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Study of the Android development activity and its authors

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Libre software is changing the way applications are built by companies, while the traditional software development model does not pay attention to external contributions, libre software products developed by companies benefit from them. These external contributions are promoted creating communities around the project and will help the company to create a superior product with a lower cost than possible for traditional competitors. The company in exchange offers the product free to use under a libre software license.

Android is one of these products, it was created by Google a couple of years ago and it follows a single vendor strategy. As Dirk Riehle introduced some time ago it is a kind of a economic paradox that a company can earn money making its product available for free as open source. But companies are not NGOs, they don’t give away money without expecting something in return, so where is the trick?

As a libre software project Android did not start from scratch, it uses software that would be unavailable for non-libre projects. Besides that, it has a community of external stakeholders that improve and test the latest version published, help to create new features and fix errors. It is true that Android is not a project driven by a community but driven by a single vendor, and Google does it in a very restricted way. For instance external developers have to sign a Grant of Copyright License and they do not even have a roadmap, Google publish the code after every release so there are big intervals of time where external developers do not have access to the latest code. Even with these barriers there are a significant part of the code that is being provided from external people, it is done directly for the project or reused from common dependencies (GIT provides ways to reuse changes done to remote repositories).

Commits by domain per month (proportional)

Commits by domain per month (proportional)

Commits by domain per month (total)

Commits by domain per month (total)

The figures above reflect the monthly number of commits done by people split up in two, in green colour commits from mail domains google.com or android.com, the study assumes that these persons are Google employees. On the other hand in grey colour the rest of commits done by other mail domains, these ones belong to different companies or volunteers.

According to the first figure (on the left), which shows the proportion of commits, during the first months that were very active (March and April 2009) the number of commits from external contributors was similar to the commits done by Google staff. The number of external commits is also big in October 2009, when the total amount of commits reached its maximum. Since April 2009 the monthly activity of the external contributors seems to be between 10% and 15%.

The figure on the left provides a interesting view of the total activity per month, two very interesting facts here: the highest peak of development was reached during late 2009 (more than 8K commits per month during two months). The second is the activity during the last months, as it was mentioned before the Google staff work in private repositories so until they publish the next version of Android, we won’t see another peak of development (take into account that commits in GIT will modify the history when the code is published, thus the last months in the timeline will be overwritten during the next release)

Commits by domain

Commits by domain

More than 10% of the commits used by Google in Android were committed using mail domains different to google.com or android.com. At this point the question is: who did it?

(Since October 2008)

# Commits Domain
69297 google.com
22786 android.com
8815 (NULL)
1000 gmail.com
762 nokia.com
576 motorola.com
485 myriadgroup.com
470 sekiwake.mtv.corp.google.com
422 holtmann.org
335 src.gnome.org
298 openbossa.org
243 sonyericsson.com
152 intel.com

Having a look at the name of the domains, it is very surprising that Nokia is one of the most active contributors. This is a real paradox, the company that states that Android is its main competition helps it!. One of the effects of using libre software licenses for your work is that even your competition can use your code, currently there are Nokia commits in the following repositories:

  • git://android.git.kernel.org/platform/external/dbus
  • git://android.git.kernel.org/platform/external/bluetooth/bluez

This study is a ongoing process that should become a scientific paper, if you have feedback please let me know.

CVSAnalY was used to get data from 171 GIT repositories (the Linux kernel was not included). Our tool allow us to store the metadata of all the repositories in one SQL database, which helped a lot. The study assumes that people working for Google use a domain @google.com or @android.com.

References:

[This entry is part of the work I do in LibreSoft and it is also available in my blog at libresoft.es]

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Written by sanacl

April 16, 2011 at 5:29 pm

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