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By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2006-10-24 Print this article Print

Another company using incentives such as electronic goods and hard cash to encourage and remunerate developers is open-source wireless e-mail company Funambol. Funambol has introduced three programs to engage its community, get their mindshare and work more closely with them, and it plans a lot more such initiatives going forward, Hal Steger, Funambols vice president of marketing, told eWEEK.
The first program, bag-a-bug, began some six months ago and was essentially a contest where developers were asked to find and fix bugs in the companys code, for which they would be rewarded with electronics such as iPods and Sony PlayStations.
"About 82 bugs were found, and 49 of them were fixed by the community," Steger said. "We estimated that saved the company between $200,000 and $300,000 in terms of what it would have cost us to pay developers and others to do that." Click here to read more about how enterprises now have more e-mail choices. Some 85 percent of the developers who took part in the program were already part of the Funambol community, Steger said, adding that its software has been downloaded more than 700,000 times, with average monthly downloads standing at about 50,000. There were several hundred active developers contributing code and doing bug fixes, making it "the largest mobile open-source project in the world," he said. But to attract and retain open-source developers, the project had to be something that developers found to be cool, novel, fun and easy to work with, Steger said. Because Funambol was written in Java, took advantage of new technologies and operated in the mobile space, it tended to attract developers and keep them interested, he said. The company also recently introduced the Code Sniper program, which is essentially a project where developers are asked to write connectors that link the Funambol software to consumer services such as Yahoo, Gmail, Skype and MySpace. Data like user contacts, e-mail and calendars is then synchronized between those consumer services and a cell phone or device. "We did not have the internal bandwidth to do this, and no one in the community had offered to undertake it. So we created the Code Sniper program, where we initially offered bounties of between $500 and $2,000 to people in the community to develop these connectors," Steger said. "This is just a token amount to show our appreciation and in no way compensates them for the time it takes them to build one of these connectors," he added. Funambol has received seven proposals, all of which were put out for the community to review and offer feedback, of which three have been approved: connectors for Yahoo, Gmail and the db4o database. But the proposal for the Yahoo connector was only received after the company raised the bounty for this from $2,000 to $3,000, Steger said. These contributions will be licensed under the recently announced Honest Public License, which is identical to the GPL (GNU General Public License) v2 except for an added paragraph designed to "close the ASP loophole and which is found in the draft GPL v3. We are working to get it recognized as a GPL-compatible license," he said. To read more about how the GPL 3 draft has revived the license debate, click here. The companys Phone Sniper community program, which was introduced in mid-October, asks people who have downloaded the Funambol software to certify that their mobile phone works with that software. They are asked to follow a simple test plan that should only take between 30 and 60 minutes and are then paid $25 for their time and effort. "In the first day we got 12 responses from people who wanted to do it, and between them they had 36 different phones, all of which have been approved," Steger said. "Most proprietary e-mail companies only have the resources to test less than 1 percent of the million or so country, phone and software combinations. "We believe this program will save us a phenomenal amount of money as we are trying to provide push e-mail, contacts and PIM on these commodity mass-market phones," he said. "If we had to do this certification and testing work ourselves, it would cost us millions of dollars. We think we can get a pretty high number of combinations tested for an investment of less than $50,000," he said. Steger said it is unlikely that programs like these will ultimately spark a bidding war between companies for open-source developer time, since those developers are motivated more by a personal interest in the project and its success than by money. "Getting the development environment right, and all the learning involved, will pretty much preclude this from happening," he said. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.

Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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