Essence of distributed work: The case of the Linux kernel (originally published in Volume 5, Number 11, November 2000)

Jae Yun Moon, Lee Sproull


This paper provides a historical account of how the Linux operating system kernel was developed from three different perspectives. Each focuses on different critical factors in its success at the individual, group, and community levels. The technical and management decisions of Linus Torvalds the individual were critical in laying the groundwork for a collaborative software development project that has lasted almost a decade. The contributions of volunteer programmers distributed worldwide enabled the development of an operating system on the par with proprietary operating systems. The Linux electronic community was the organizing structure that coordinated the efforts of the individual programmers. The paper concludes by summarizing the factors important in the successful distributed development of the Linux kernel, and the implications for organizationally managed distributed work arrangements.

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