TECHNOLOGY

All systems go

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A new report on the popular website Information Is Beautiful shows just how many millions of lines of software are running behind the scenes in products we all take for granted.

Some of the heavyweight operating systems and application packages are on the list, but what is perhaps more interesting is the number of non-software products like jet aircraft – both military and commercial – as well as some modern cars, which rely heavily on millions of lines of computer code.

The Boeing 787 and the Chevy Volt both weigh in at around 10 million lines while the average modern high-end vehicle depends on a staggering 100 million lines of code. And software itself has become so sophisticated that it is “eating the world”, in the words of Netscape founder Marc Andreessen, by which he means that entire industries and job descriptions are being replaced by code.

“95% of the world’s software is written in-house as a cost of doing business or creating products,” says LSD Information Technology MD, Sven Lesicnik. “When proprietary software vendors speak about the software ecosystem, they’re almost always talking about their own tiny corner of it. As this report shows, the vast majority of businesses need – and have to write – software so that they can develop their own non-software products.”

One of the largest codebases on the list, at over 60m lines of code, is a complete Linux distribution: the latest Linux kernel, together with all of the operating system, libraries and applications that are available for it.

“In the early days of computers, companies wrote their own office applications and even their own operating systems. Today, no one has the time or expertise to do that themselves. But innovators may be unaware of the sheer size of the free and open-source ecosystem available to them for copying, modifying and distributing at no cost. It’s the largest technical repository of human knowledge on the planet.”

Lesicnik says that the explosion of the Linux-powered Raspberry Pi computer is an excellent example of how people can innovate when they have freely available software resources and cheap hardware on which to experiment.

“The Pi has been used to create a vast array of useful gadgets, from weather balloon cameras and radio transmitters to arcade machines, home automation products and robots. Innovators don’t need permission or the blessing of some software vendor to get started: they can dive right in and develop what they want to, because the software is already available to build on. In any commercial venture, being allowed to innovate without software licensing costs conveys enormous competitive and financial advantage,” he concludes.

Mia Andric

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