Monday, December 10, 2007

Paying Developers: A New Way to Develop Community

In Bangalore at FOSS.IN, Simon Phipps, Sun Microsystem's open source guru, announced on Friday that Sun will be establishing an "award program" to support innnovation and advance open source development relating to its products. He describes the program as providing a "substantial prize purse". The fund will be divided into six chunks of about $175,000 each — war chests to ignite original ideas in six streams or communities working on Sun-created open environments: OpenSolaris, GlassFish, NetBeans, OpenJDK, OpenOffice and OpenSparc.

This announcement deals with one of the most fundamental questions in the FOSS industry: will the future of FOSS be constrained by the limited number of programmers who are willing to work for free? This issue translates into the more immediate question for FOSS companies of how to motivate FOSS developers to become part of their community given the proliferation of FOSS companies and projects. Many industry commentators have emphasized that developing a robust community is critical to the success of a company depending on an open source business model. This announcement may mark the rise of a new approach to community development.