Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Is there a problem with providing monetary incentives to open source projects?

A lot has been discussed recently about Sun unveiling a program that will provide monetary incentives to successful contributions to some of their open source projects. The program was discussed in limited scope on Simon Phipps's blog .

I have read people's comments that straddle both sides of the fence. On one hand, you have Michael Cote', an analyst with Redmonk, in favor of this decision. He states in an article in ComputerWorld, "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. That's great, but it's also great to get cash."

On the other side, you have Matthew Aslett from the 451 Group questioning Sun's move in his blog . He goes on to state that, "Could the same not be said of offering cash prizes for innovative open source development? If the idea is truly innovative, would it not find its way to to the development tree without the promise of financial reward? Previous surveys have indicated that personal gratification and improved skills are greater motivations for open source developers than direct financial returns."

So, at the end of the day, this is all very interesting. I believe whichever side you are on, you can make a valid point. However, I do not see what is wrong with both. I personally agree with both sides. Essentially, in this case, "you can have your cake and eat it to".

There is no question that open source developers take great pride in the code that they develop. And, I believe many like the name recognition. After all, everyone needs a little ego boost from time to time. At the same time, I rarely run into an individual that will shy away from accepting additional compensation for their code. Sure, most of the leading open source developers are employed and making a fairly decent living. But, I have yet to hear one cry out, "Enough is enough. I do not want anymore money."

The way that I see it is this is a win-win for everyone involved. I do not think it is going to change the open source landscape. Whether or not there is monetary motivations, developers are always going to develop whatever interests them. So, that will remain the same. The benefit to those developers is that they will get a few extra greenbacks on the side from a company with large coffers. If I am a developer (which I am not), I say bring it on. Whoever is willing to giveth, I would be happy to be on the receiving end.

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