Valuing the intellectual commons

Ubuntu is a popular distribution of the Free/Libre/Open-Source Software (FLOSS) GNU/Linux computer system.

Using the COCOMO model to estimate the cost of producing computer code of specified length and complexity, a linux enthusiast estimated the actual cost to produce the software in the Ubuntu repositories. The Ubuntu software repository contains over 121 million lines of code, and the estimated cost to produce it is over 7 billion dollars.

Is this a lot?

On the one hand, it’s an incredible achievement for volunteered, uncoerced, even joyful labor. And the COCOMO approach seemed like a clever way to value this important part of the intellectual commons.

On the other hand, Microsoft’s market capitalization is 280 Billion, and in my opinion, Ubuntu does almost everything that Microsoft can do. (Well, not really; Ubuntu does not compete with the Microsoft X-Box gaming system or the Microsoft network, but Ubuntu does offer a complete computer system, including office software, web browser, operating system, multimedia viewers, etc.) So why do the valuations differ by a factor of 40?

Thanks to Kristian Hermansen of the UMassLUG (UMass Linux Users’ Group) for the lead.