When it comes to courting to developers and participants in the various open source communities, there are no hard and fast rules for success. The tactics employed by the likes of IBM, HP, Nokia, Novell, Red Hat, and Sun have included everything from patent grants and pledges to free hardware. Almost invariably, the success of the individual moves varies widely; there’s simply little way to predict how the community might perceive any given corporate overture.
That said, Google’s latest initiative – the Summer of Code – in which they promise hard cash for students that contribute to open source, seems to be a fairly surefire way to make them some friends. In essence, Chris DiBona and co. are turning limited (though the students might disagree) cash investments into what are effectively sponsored development projects for a handful of open source projects (Python, Perl, Apache, Ubuntu, GNOME, Mono, Wine and Subversion so far). Conceptually, this is not all that different from Novell’s bounties or CA’s Ingres database development contest, although targeting students isn’t something I recall seeing recently.
I don’t yet understand how the approval process works for projects, and thus don’t have a good handle on what the potential costs to Google might be, but the potential benefits here are many. Better relations with important open source projects and their backers, for one, along with the opportunity to both delight and mine the greater development community for talent. Google and Adam Bosworth in particular took something of a hit from some in the F/OSS ranks a little while back – unfairly, IMO – so it’ll be interesting to see if this has any impact on softening some of those perceptions.
Meantime I’ll wait and see how developers on and off list react, but right now I think the program looks like a winner.