Volume 13, Number 4 Article by Sourav Mukherji December, 2001
Learning From Linux :
The development process of Linux, an open source software, represents a unique model of knowledge creation. Members of the Linux development community are disparate individuals dispersed all across the globe, who are passionately involved in creating one of the most complex pieces of software that is also one of the most popular, because of its high performance and technical merits. While conventional wisdom on knowledge management deems organisations as essential vehicles for collaborative knowledge creation, the Linux development process, in which the entire process of knowledge creation takes place outside the boundary of any formal hierarchical organisation, is a paradox. In an award winning student essay, Sourav Mukherji analyses the Linux development process in an effort to resolve this paradox, and in the process, draw some insights for organisational knowledge management.
One of the most intriguing aspects of the Linux development process is the motivation of this team of highly talented software developers (in the absence of any monetary compensation for work done on the project). Also of interest are the manner in which the efforts of so many individuals are coordinated, and their individual knowledge assimilated to develop a complex product like an operating system; and how the process has avoided code forking, or the branching of efforts into incompatible versions, as happened to Unix. Sourav Mukherji finds that the Linux development process is a unique one, where several factors combine to ensure its success: the members’ belief that information should be free to all and that software is a work of art, to be judged both for what it does and for its inherent beauty; their desire for peer approbation; the fair and rational leadership of the founder, Linus Torvalds; the modular design that limits interdependencies; and the fact that profit is not an objective. While this has lessons for organisational knowledge management, the conditions would be impossible to duplicate in an organisation. The study concludes that organisational principles and hierarchical control are essential for the process of collaborative knowledge creation in spite of the remarkable example of the Linux development process.
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