Why use OSS in product development

Many analysist talk about the potential savings of using OSS. One of the more visible place to see this savings is in “integrated reuse”, the leverage of OSS components to reduce development and maintenance costs. I will take some examples from an excellent thesis Erkko Anttila, “Open Source Software and Impact on Competitiveness: Case Study” from Helsinki University of Technology. Erkko interviewed many actors from Nokia and Apple about their adoption of OSS in the Maemo platform and in OSX, and measured the OSS contribution through the traditional (albeit not always accurate) COCOMO model. Here are some results:


The total software stack includes 10.5 million lines of code (product and development tools), which is split into 85% coming directly from OSS, and 15% either modified or developed by Nokia. In source code lines the respective amounts are 8.9 Million lines of OSS code and 1.6 million lines of Nokia developed software. Out of the 15% created by Nokia, 50% are made available to the community as modifications to components or totally new components, leaving roughly 7.5% of the software stack closed. (…) Based on the COCOMO model we can estimate the value of the utilized OSS to be $228,000,000, including both product software and tools.”


“Based on the COCOMO model the total cost of internally developing the OSS included in the Darwin core and the used development tools would be $350,000,000.”

This is not, however, the only advantage; as Ari Jaaksi of Nokia mentioned during one of his presentations: “No need to execute complex licensing negotiations; Saving can be up to 6- 12 months in real projects”. 6-12 months of totally non-productive wait are not a bad savings, but when added to the developers time saved by reuse we have estimated that for end-user products the total savings are between 12 and 18 months; and for consumer products (especially in IT) reducing time to market by one year means having a significant first-mover advantage. So, the next time someone wonders why LCD TVs from Sony, Sharp, LG use Linux and other OSS components inside, tell them that it’s the only way to be competitive…

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