Sun Microsystems has announced a new program in which the company intends to donate a million dollars to independent software developers who contribute to Sun's open source software projects. The Open Source Community Innovation Awards Program was announced by Sun's chief open-source officer, Simon Phipps, at FOSS.IN, an open-source software summit that took place in Bangalore last week.
Although some are comparing Sun's award program to Google's Summer of Code initiative, there are some significant differences. Unlike Google's Summer of Code program—which focused on increasing student participation in open-source software development—Sun's program is open to everyone.
Another crucial difference is that Sun isn't establishing the terms under which the resources are distributed. Instead of creating specific guidelines for individual contributors, Sun will permit participating open-source projects to determine individually how they plan to distribute the award funds allocated to them by Sun. This approach is highly advantageous, because it will allow individual projects to award contributors in a manner that is most appropriate for their development model and goals. For instance, the open-source communities that receive resources from Sun could potentially choose to use the money to set up bounties on specific bugs and features, reward notable longtime contributors, or set up paid internships.
Another major difference between Sun's program and Google's Summer of Code initiative is the nature of the participating projects. Google's Summer of Code program involved a highly diverse assortment of independent open-source projects that aren't directly affiliated with Google. Sun's program, on the other hand, is currently limited only to Sun's own open-source products, including OpenSolaris, GlassFish, OpenJDK, OpenSPARC, NetBeans, and OpenOffice.org. Google's initiative is clearly focused more on giving back to the broader open source community, whereas Sun's program is specifically about rewarding contributors who participate in Sun's communities.
In recent years, Sun has been working hard to build robust open-source software communities around many of its flagship products. For instance, the company has attempted to build mindshare around OpenSolaris by turning it into a more practical platform for day-to-day use with Project Indiana. Sun's new award program isn't charity in any sense of the word, but it does seem like another pragmatic way for Sun to invest in its own community.