Realities of Free/Libre/Open Source Software developers in Japan and Asia
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Realities of Free/Libre/Open Source Software developers in Japan and Asia

A variety of individuals around the world are furthering development of Free/Libre/Open Source Software (FLOSS) through the Internet. Why do they participate in developers’ communities and continue to develop FLOSS? Is their treatment enough to sustain their activities? Surveys, using online questionnaires, were conducted to answer these questions to analyze the FLOSS movement sociologically. However these surveys tend to focus on developers in the West. We decided to see if there are regional differences in FLOSS development. To that end, we conducted two surveys, the FLOSS–JP survey in Japanese and the FLOSS–ASIA survey in other Asian languages. In this paper, we describe regional differences, especially among Asian and Japanese FLOSS developers and compare the results to those from Western FLOSS surveys. Detailed reports of FLOSS–JP/ASIA are available at our Web site (MRI, 2004)


Survey of FLOSS developers
Overview of our surveys
Features of Asian/Japanese FLOSS developers





We have been exploring practical use of Free/Libre/Open Source Software (FLOSS) through various FLOSS–related activities, such as the implementation of a FLOSS development project (MRI, 2004), administration of a portal site "Open Source and the Government" (MRI, 2004), and a demonstration experiment of an open source desktop (AIST, 2004). We have also been cooperating to promote exchanges between Asian FLOSS developers by participating in the Asia Open Source Software Symposium (AOSS, 2004).

In considering FLOSS, we cannot ignore communities of FLOSS developers. It has been gradually recognized that FLOSS developers themselves are an important resource for FLOSS development. Consequently, some governments and companies are examining whether they should assist FLOSS developers and, if so, how. To do so, some fundamental questions need to be answered, such as "What are FLOSS communities like?," "Who are the developers?" and "What do they want to be?"

Recent results from some surveys of FLOSS communities have provided some details. However, there is little information on communities in Japan and Asia.

To address this dilemma, we conducted online surveys of Japanese and Asian FLOSS communities. In this paper, we report the results of two surveys, providing some description of FLOSS developers in Japan and Asia, and providing perspectives on regional differences among developers in Japan, Asia, Europe, and the U.S.



Survey of FLOSS developers

Related surveys

Several research projects were conducted in 2002 to describe the realities of FLOSS developers.

G. Robles (Technical University of Berlin) conducted "WIDI (‘Who Is Doing It?’) — A research on Libre Software developers" (Robles, et al., 2002). J. Bates (OSDN) conducted the "Hacker Survey" (Lakhani, et al., 2002). The FLOSS survey (FLOSS–EU) was conducted in 2002 by R.A. Ghosh (International Institute of Infonomics, University of Maastricht, Netherlands), under a grant from the IST Program of the European Commission (International Institute of Infornomics, 2002). The FLOSS–US survey was conducted in 2003 by Stanford University’s Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research (SIEPR) under a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) (David, et al., 2003).

Background of FLOSS–JP/ASIA

In the aforementioned surveys, there were very few Japanese participants. Japanese FLOSS developers have been quite active, with as many software developers in Japan as in Europe. Hence, we attribute this absence of information on Asian developers to a language barrier.

The FLOSS–EU and FLOSS–US questionnaires were written in English (FLOSS–US was announced in seven European languages and Chinese). The creators of the FLOSS–EU and FLOSS–US surveys may think that since the default language used in the FLOSS communities is English, developers must be accustomed to using English. In actuality, questionnaires and related announcements written only in English are not accessible to many Japanese and Asian developers. As a result, there are few respondents from Japan and Asia.

To provide a remedy, we planned the FLOSS–JP survey in Japanese and FLOSS–ASIA survey in Asian languages (Traditional/Simplified Chinese, Korean, Thai, and English for other countries).



Overview of our surveys

Survey methods

We conducted the "Free/Libre/Open Source Software Japanese Developers Online Survey (FLOSS–JP)" from 1 September through 1 November 2003. The East/South–East Asian version of this survey (FLOSS–ASIA) was taken from 1 December 2003 to 30 January 2004. As we intended to collect developers’ opinions directly, we used an online survey system for these surveys.

To allow a global comparison with results obtained from other surveys, most of the questions were taken directly from the European FLOSS survey and the FLOSS–US survey. For this reason, we worked with the leaders of the FLOSS survey, especially Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, in developing our questions. Also, we followed advice provided by several prominent individuals in FLOSS communities and especially members of the Asian OSS FLOSS community. The scope of the survey included:

  • Profile of the developer (age, years of experience, occupation, annual income, etc.);
  • Opinions regarding FLOSS and licensing systems;
  • Circumstances related to FLOSS development activities (development time, platform, number of projects worked on, leadership experience, main center of activities, nature of activities, etc.);
  • Motivation and expectations relative to FLOSS development; and,
  • Compensation for FLOSS (indirect /direct remuneration and external assistance).

Answers to questions had to be selected from a menu of choices for largely the following reasons:

  • Compilation of the questionnaires would be complicated;
  • Handling of many Asian languages may have caused some problems on our online survey system; and,
  • Costs for translation and analyzing responses written in various Asian languages could be very high.

The FLOSS–JP/ASIA survey was conducted by using our online questionnaire system. We also conducted paper–based questionnaires (for FLOSS–JP survey) at some open source–related events.

Survey results

We had 547 responses from Japanese developers in FLOSS–JP and 138 responses from Asian developers. We suspect that the low response rate was due to problems with terminologies or translation quality of the inquiries, and a lack of dissemination of the FLOSS–ASIA survey.

However, the basic trends in FLOSS–JP/ASIA are similar to those of FLOSS and FLOSS–US. In addition, there were some significant differences in each survey.



Features of Asian/Japanese FLOSS developers

Personal profile


In all four surveys (FLOSS–EU/US/JP/ASIA), almost all (JP: 98.0 percent, ASIA: 98.5 percent, EU: 98.8 percent, US: 98.4 percent) are male.


In FLOSS–JP, 97.4 percent of respondents live in Japan, and about half of them live in the south Kanto area (Tokyo metropolitan area). In FLOSS–ASIA, many live in the Republic of Korea (40.8 percent) and Thailand (23.3 percent). Some respondents live in Chinese Taipei (10.5 percent), China (9.0 percent), and Malaysia (7.5 percent). Many Korean and Thai developers participated in our survey because, in part, the announcement of the survey spread widely and the questionnaire was prepared in local languages.

A brief history of FLOSS development and its current situation

Table 1 shows FLOSS development initially began in Europe and the U.S., followed by Japan and Asia. The average age of developers in FLOSS–EU/US/ASIA is about 27 years old, which is four years younger than those in Japan (31.2 years old).


Table 1: Basic descriptions of FLOSS developers
Year began development Mean 1998.4 1999.4 1996.6 1996.7
  Median 2000 2000 1999 1998
Age began development Mean 26.6 24.3   22.9
  Median 26 23 22 22
Present age Mean 31.2 27.9   22.1
  Median 31 27 27 26

Family composition

Since the average age of Japanese developers is older than other areas, the married proportion is also higher than other areas (ASIA, EU and US; see Figure 1). Although the percentages of those who have partners are different, the proportions are similar since their average ages are nearly equal.

Figure 1: Family composition.
Figure 1: Family composition.

Academic background

In FLOSS–EU/US/JP, more than 30 percent have graduated from graduate schools, and most (63.9 percent) have graduated from universities in FLOSS–ASIA (Figure 2). As the number of people who have completed graduate school in Asia is generally smaller than that of Europe, the United States and Japan, it appears that most FLOSS developers are highly educated.

However, there are developers who are junior high or high school graduates, proving wide variations in the academic backgrounds of developers. FLOSS developers are not necessarily expected to have serious academic credentials; anyone motivated with good ideas can participate in FLOSS development.

center>Figure 2: Academic background.
Figure 2: Academic background.


Many developers naturally work in software–related fields with 14.4 to 21.0 percent noted as students (Figure 3). Japanese students who engaged in IT–related fields make up only 6.5 percent of the total compared to 10.5 percent in Asia and 15.8 percent in Europe. There may be differences between IT education in Japan and Europe. It appears that Japnese IT–related education may not be suitable for FLOSS development.

Figure 3: Occupation.
Figure 3: Occupation.

OSS/FS license

Strictly speaking, open source software and free software are different. The free software movement is a kind of social movement, epitomized by Richard Stallman’s slogan "free all software." The ideologically colored General Public License (GPL) imposes strict conditions but it ensures freedom on an ongoing basis.

Open source software, on the other hand, is a comparatively recent development. With the spread of Linux in the business world, the ideological aspects of open source movement were de–emphasized while its business advantages, such as the "bazaar–like" joint development of code, were emphasized.

In our survey, respondents were asked to respond to which community they were a part of, and if they thought that there were any differences between the two communities. As a follow–up, they were asked if their community identity was reflected in the kind of licensing system they selected for their software.

Open source software? Free software?

First, respondents were asked how they distinguish between open source and free software and which community they considered themselves to be affiliated with.

Over 70 percent of respondents in each survey answered that they distinguish between open source and free software (Figure 4). However, there were differences in answers to the question, "Do you think of yourself as part of the Free software community or as part of the Open source software community?"

In Japan and Asia, open source software (43.7 percent and 42.1 percent) is more popular than free software (26.7 percent and 25.6 percent), while in Europe, free software is more popular (48.0 percent) than open source software (32.6 percent). In the U.S., equal numbers of respondents identifed themselves as part of open source, free, and did not care.

To summarize: the case of electronic voting shows that accountability can be achieved by involving many eyes in the process of software design and deployment. Most importantly, openness might not be a sufficient condition for accountability, but it most certainly is a necessary one.

Figure 4: Open source software or free software.
Figure 4: Open source software or free software.

Next, respondents were asked whether the free software community and the open source community were the same or different. As Figure 5 shows, almost an equal third of the respondents gave each of the three responses: "no difference," "different both in principle and in practice" and "the same in practice." In Asia and EU, most respondents think it is "the same in practice."

These results show that the respondents involved in FLOSS development distinguish between the two communities with a clear understanding of the differences between free software and open source ideologies.

Figure 5: Perceived differences between FS and OSS communities.
Figure 5: Perceived differences between FS and OSS communities.

Licensing system

We also asked about their favorite license (Figure 6). There are a few who did not care (about 10 percent). The GPL is the most popular in Japan (42.0 percent) and especially in Asia (64.7 percent). It seems that Asian developers are eager to share knowledge and skills.

Figure 6: Favored licensing system.
Figure 6: Favored licensing system.

FLOSS development activities

Development time

FLOSS developers have an image of immersing themselves in development for long periods of time after work and on weekends. However, the amount of time that they actually spend on FLOSS development is surprisingly short (Figure 7). About half of the respondents said they spend five hours or less per week. In other words, many developers engage in FLOSS development timewise as one of their hobbies.

Figure 7: Average weekly FLOSS development time.
Figure 7: Average weekly FLOSS development time.

Development target

"Networks" and "Web services" accounted for the largest percentage of development target fields (39.2 and 33.1 percent in Japan, 49.6 and 46.6 percent in Asia). Most network and Web service software consisted of small programs such as scripts and utilities.

Development platform

In FLOSS–EU, there are few developers who develop FLOSS on Windows (2.2 percent; see Figure 8), but there are 15 percent in Asia and 31.2 percent in Japan. If we consider that the most common desktop platform is Windows, it is natural that Japanese developers develop FLOSS in a Windows environment. Three–forths of Japanese developers develop networks and Web services. So, if the servers are Linux, it does not matter whether client PCs are Windows based. In addition, Linux may not be sufficiently localized in Asia.

Figure 8: Favored development platform.
Figure 8: Favored development platform.

Number of projects and leadership experience

In every survey, respondents had not been involved in many projects in the past. Most of the respondents said that their past experience consisted of five projects or less (JP: 79.2 percent, ASIA: 67.8 percent, EU: 71.9 percent).

The percentage of those with leadership experience is about half (JP: 43.4 percent, ASIA: 54.1 percent, EU: 64.8 percent). In other words, a large number of developers have been involved in projects by taking the leadership of the project themselves.

Center of activities

FLOSS development seems borderless and world–wide, but not all FLOSS developers participate in global communities. In fact, as shown in Figure 9, 37.7 percent of Japanese (FLOSS–JP) and 52.6 percent of Asian (FLOSS–ASIA) developers participate in global communities.

Figure 9: Center of activities.
Figure 9: Center of activities.

English language skills

To participate in global communities, developers are expected to be able to read and write English. The English language ability of Asian respondents was higher than that of Japanese respondents (Figure 10). However, this does not necessarily indicate a higher level of English language skills in Asian countries for two reasons. First, a local development community has not developed in each Asian country, so ultimately it is necessary for developers to be active globally. Second, many of the respondents were key individuals in their respective communities, and hence had a global role requiring some knowledge of English.

Figure 10: English language skills.
Figure 10: English language skills.

Type of activities

Considering FLOSS development, we imagine that developers are always engaged in programming. However, as shown in Figure 11, respondents cited coding–related activities (developing main functions, fixing bugs, creating patches, testing) at only 61.7 percent in Japan, and only 49.5 percent in Asia.

Document preparation, translation and support activities were indicated as 10–15 percent of the total activities, revealing that many developers contributed to diverse activities other than coding. Many developers involved in FLOSS work in different ways, even if they are unable to contribute code.

Figure 11: Major types of activities.
Figure 11: Major types of activities.

Learning methods

The percentage of respondents who taught themselves the skills to contribute to FLOSS development was high (62.5 percent in Japan, 54.9 percent in Asia; see Figure 12). There is certainly some need to develop more traditional curricula for FLOSS development.

Only 7.9 percent of respondents had formal qualifications related to FLOSS, which relates to FLOSS self–training. The combined percentage for developers who taught themselves, or learned from the community, reached 71.1 percent in Japan. Of these, the percentage of those developers who possessed formal qualifications was only 6.9 percent and 2.2 percent, respectively.

We can imagine that most developers started their involvement with FLOSS as a hobby, and therefore saw no particular advantage in acquiring formal qualifications. On the other hand, a comparatively high percentage of developers who had learned as part of on–the–job activities or who studied at the university level possessed qualifications. In some cases, it may have been advantageous for developers to acquire specific qualifications under certain employment conditions.

Interestingly, the number of individuals who had learned from science and engineering–related fields (11.3 percent) was greater than the number of people who had learned from IT–related fields (9.8 percent) in Asia. It is very likely that those in IT–related fields learned FLOSS development on their own, but the results show that FLOSS–related education is also conducted in science and engineering–related fields.

Figure 12: Learning methods.
Figure 12: Learning methods.

Motivation, expectation and views regarding FLOSS development

Motivation for FLOSS development

A majority of respondents in all surveys answered that one of the motivations for becoming involved in FLOSS development was to acquire and share knowledge and skills. Respondents also felt that others did not place as much value on skills as they did, and that proprietary software was not good. These trends were common in FLOSS–JP/ASIA. A major difference in FLOSS–JP and ASIA was that Asian respondents felt that other developers were involved in FLOSS development for fame or profit.

Beginning of involvement in FLOSS development

In the Japanese survey, approximately half of all respondents replied that their involvement began with coding, such as releasing their own program (36.5 percent) or sending a patch (16.2 percent; see Figure 13). In the Asian survey, most people replied their involvement began with communications. Half (50.5 percent) of the respondents cited exchanging e–mail with others (20.5 percent), responding to a question from a friend (15.6 percent), or responding to a question from a user on a mailing list (14.8 percent). It is obvious that involvement in the FLOSS movement is not limited to just coding. However, most are currently involved in coding activities. It can be inferred that many have gained technical skills to code through their involvement in FLOSS development.

Figure 13: Beginning of involvement in FLOSS development.
Figure 13: Beginning of involvement in FLOSS development.

Importance of signature

A signature in source code is evidence that a specific work is one’s own creation. As a result, developers were asked how they regarded signatures.

As shown in Figure 14, there are no clear differences between FLOSS–JP/ASIA/EU (Note: FLOSS–EU did not distinguish between a real name or nickname). About 60 percent of developers regarded signatures in their code as important, as evidence or proof of their work.

Figure 14: Signature in source code.
Figure 14: Signature in source code.

Compensation for FLOSS development

The rates of respondents who received monetary compensation were about 50 percent in EU/US/Asia and only 26.8 percent in Japan (Figure 15). The number of developers who receive compensation for system administration and support is higher in the West than in Japan and Asia, and it is expected to increase in Japan and Asia in the near future.

Government agencies and public foundations are the main source of assistance in Japan, while there are various organizations and individuals in FLOSS–US. The fact that the main sources of assistance are universities and schools in Asia indicates that Asian educational institutions are focusing on FLOSS.

Figure 15: Monetary remuneration for FLOSS development.
Figure 15: Monetary remuneration for FLOSS development.

Recognition of FLOSS development

The question of whether companies (or schools) were aware of the involvement of respondents in FLOSS development reveals that Japanese companies are less aware of FLOSS than Asian companies, as shown in Figure 16. In other words, the figures for "involvement is known" were 34.7 percent in Japan and 39.1 percent in Asia, and the figures for "involvement is not known" were 22.6 percent in Japan and 33.8 percent in Asia.

Figure 16: Recognition of OSS/FS development (current).
Figure 16: Recognition of OSS/FS development (current).

Figure 17 shows the developers wanted schools/companies to recognize their involvement (24.2 percent in Japan, 23.3 percent in Asia) and wanted to receive compensation (29.4 percent and 32.3 percent). Only 11.3 percent of Asian developers were satisfied with the current situation compared to the situation (16.9 percent) in Japan.

Figure 17: Recognition of OSS/FS development (desired).
Figure 17: Recognition of OSS/FS development (desired).



In this paper, we illustrated features and regional differences of FLOSS developers by comparing four FLOSS surveys (FLOSS–EU/US/JP/ASIA). This large–scale survey of Japanese and Asian FLOSS developers reveals regional differences, so the results are significant in demonstrating different aspects of the global FLOSS community.

Table 2 shows similarities and differences between FLOSS developers as revealed by four surveys. It is true that anyone can participate in FLOSS development, transcending political boundaries, gender and age. However, we found developers in every region adopt some distinctive features. We assume that local cultures, circumstances, economic conditions, and histories contribute to these differences.


Table 2: Similarities and differences of FLOSS developers
  • Mostly male.
  • Most developers are highly educated but there is a rich variety of educational backgrounds.
  • Japanese developers are about 4 years older than other areas.
  • Fewer IT–related students involved in FLOSS development in Japan.
OSS/FS, License
  • Developers realize the difference between OSS and FS.
  • OSS is popular in Japan and Asia. FS is popular in EU.
  • GPL is predominantly popular in Asia. Japanese also favor GPL.
Development activities
  • Development time is short (less than 5 hours par week).
  • Main targets of development are networks and Web services.
  • The number of projects are few, but about half of the developers have leadership experience.
  • More then 40 percent acts globally in Japan and Asia.
  • Many developers are not engaged in programming work.
  • Most developers learn their skill by themselves and do not have an interest in formal qualifications.
  • Some respondents develop FLOSS in the Windows environment in Japan and Asia, while 2.2 do so percent in the EU.
  • More developers learn their skills in universities in Asia.
Motivations and expectations
  • Main purpose is to obtain and share skills and knowledge.
  • Beginning of involvement is coding–related activities in Japan, while involvement is related to communications in Asia.
  • About 60 percent of the developers regard their signature as important.
Remuneration and recognition
  • Most Japanese and Asian companies do not emphasize FLOSS development. Developers want their companies to recognize their involvement.
  • There are some respondents in Japan who receive some assistance.
  • Main sources of assistance are government agencies and public foundations in Japan, educational institutions in Asia, and various organizations and individuals in US.
  • Less companies emphasize FLOSS development in Japan than in Asia, while Japanese developers have a weaker demand for their employers to recognize their involvement than Asian developers.

To encourage FLOSS development, especially in Japan, we recommend the following activities:

  1. To promote the participation of students, we should begin practical FLOSS education at an early age. A Japanese technical school will open a department of open source software next spring.
  2. Administrators should be aware that promoting FLOSS development will help to drive the IT industry and increase its competitiveness. Although governmental agencies have programs to support FLOSS development they are not sufficient.
  3. To improve the situation of developers, there should be a general effort at all levels to increase awareness of FLOSS development to the general public. Some demonstrative experiments introducing Linux PCs in offices and schools are being conducted.
  4. It is essential that standards for FLOSS skills be developed along with a formalized structure for learning. We are developing skills standards for FLOSS developers.

We also hope that the findings of this survey will help to promote FLOSS development and improve the circumstances of developers in Japan and Asia. End of article


About the authors

Hiroyuki Shimizu can be found in the Information Technology Research Department of the Mitsubishi Research Institute, Inc. in Tokyo.
E–mail: hshimizu [at] mri [dot] co [dot] jp

Jun Iio is a member of the Information Technology Research Department of the Mitsubishi Research Institute, Inc. in Tokyo.
E–mail: iiojun [at] mri [dot] co [dot] jp

Kazuo Hiyane is also a member of the Information Technology Research Department of the Mitsubishi Research Institute, Inc. in Tokyo.
E–mail: hiya [at] mri [dot] co [dot] jp



The FLOSS–JP/ASIA survey was conducted with kind cooperation of open source communities. We would like to extend our thanks to developers who submitted responses and helped publicize the survey. We also appreciate the original FLOSS survey team (Rishab Aiyer Ghosh and Ruediger Glott of MERIT and Infonomics, University of Maastricht) for their consent to use the questions willingly and for sending additional questions about skills development.

FLOSS–JP/ASIA is a part of the project on the "Survey on Human Resource Development for Open Source Software Developers," supported by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI), Japan.



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Mitsubishi Research Institute, Inc. (MRI). "FLOSS–JP : Free/Libre/Open Source Software Japanese Developers Online Survey," at, accessed 20 September 2004.

Mitsubishi Research Institute, Inc. (MRI). "FLOSS–ASIA: Free/Libre/Open Source Software Asian Developers Online Survey," at, accessed 20 September 2004.

Mitsubishi Research Institute, Inc. (MRI). "Open Source and the Government," at, accessed 20 September 2004.

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Editorial history

Paper received 22 September 2004; accepted 19 October 2004.

Copyright ©2004, First Monday

Copyright ©2004, Hiroyuki Shimizu, Jun Iio, and Kazuo Hiyane

Realities of Free/Libre/Open Source Software developers in Japan and Asia
by Hiroyuki Shimizu, Jun Iio, and Kazuo Hiyane
First Monday, Volume 9, Number 11 - 1 November 2004

A Great Cities Initiative of the University of Illinois at Chicago University Library.

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