Sun to dangle prize money over open source efforts

Sun Microsystems will soon unveil a cash prize program for a number open-source communities.

Sun Microsystems on Wednesday will release details of a new award program meant to spur growth and activity within the company's open-source efforts, according to a post by Sun's open-source officer, Simon Phipps, on his corporate blog.

"We'll be providing a substantial prize purse and working with the communities involved to develop the approach that works best," Phipps wrote.

The award program will involve the OpenSolaris, GlassFish, OpenJDK, OpenSPARC, NetBeans and OpenOffice.org communities, according to Phipps. "This is a great opportunity for members of these open-source communities to take their passion and creativity and push the innovation boundaries -- and get paid in the process," he wrote.

Phipps did not provide details Tuesday as to how much money would be involved. A spokeswoman for Sun said the company would provide additional information Wednesday, and Phipps wrote that he planned to talk about the program during a keynote address Friday at the FOSS.IN/2007 show in Bangalore.

The location of his speech is deliberate, Phipps said. "I'm announcing it in India because that's where I expect the greatest open-source community growth to come from in the near future. ... If we can play a part in catalyzing the emergence of India as a key international open source power-house, the effect on the software industry will be huge."

Phipps' post comes some months after Rich Green, Sun's executive vice president of software, voiced skepticism over the open-source status quo, where developers who contribute to various efforts go uncompensated while corporations are enriched.

"It really is a worrisome social artifact," Green said at the time. "I think in the long term that this is a worrisome scenario [and] not sustainable. We are looking very closely at compensating people for the work that they do."

Michael Cote, an analyst with Redmonk, said Sun's move is welcome. "In the open-source community, you get sort of soft rewards, like respect and a reputation in the overall IT community, and the adoration of your fans," said Cote, who has worked as a developer. "That's great, but it's also great to get cash."

There are established ways for open-source developers to enjoy financial gain -- such as by being hired by an open-source software company, or through "bounty" jobs. But overall, Cote said, "we haven't figured a way to support the lifestyle of programmers in an open-source world."

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