Sponsoring Open-Source Drivers For $1 Per Day?

Written by Michael Larabel in Free Software on 22 June 2012 at 07:21 AM EDT. 15 Comments
An idea is being kicked around within the forums about sponsoring open-source driver development for one dollar per day.

It's been talked about in some other threads of the Phoronix Forums, but now there's a concerted thread about this proposed initiative for financing new open-source driver development.

The ideas as expressed in Sponsor An Open Source Driver Dev For a $1 a Day??? comes down to a Kickstarter-like crowd-sourced funding of open-source driver work for Linux. This wouldn't necessarily be $1 USD per day that's mandated, but any amount to pledge in order to get the ball rolling.

It's not for sure that this project will get off the ground, but it's an interesting concept. While interesting, there are a few items to point out with different ideas still being thrown around in the forums:

First of all, the open-source driver projects don't appear to be financially bottlenecked, at least for the entire community-backed Nouveau project for reverse-engineering NVIDIA drivers. It's very unlikely that the official (a.k.a. employed) developers at Intel or AMD would take any money from the community in form of bounties or other compensation (well, aside from beer) to improve their drivers, so the Nouveau code would be the most likely benefactor.

I talked about a similar matter with Martin Peres of Nouveau recently with there being a certain company that's looking to help drive Linux and was wondering if hiring open-source GPU driver developers would help improve the situation, etc. According to Martin, however, it really wouldn't immediately improve Nouveau. Most of the Nouveau driver developers are European university students who aren't financially-strained and/or they're already employed elsewhere. It's not that there's currently a line of qualified developers waiting to contribute to Nouveau but can't afford to do so.

Martin did say that bounties may work in some manner for being paid to complete certain features but that time is irrelevant. He also said that "some people are genuinely interested in working on nouveau, but they lack the motivation to keep on working."

For those that recall, in the very early days of Nouveau was also that Nouveau fundraiser / pledge drive where they collected $10,000 USD. This was six years ago and I still don't even know how it ended there; they were hoping to buy some more NVIDIA graphics cards at the time, except they ran into complications collecting the money in a tax-free status.

These days for the main open-source graphics developers it doesn't appear that hardware is a bottleneck -- they've even somehow managed to get early access to next-generation NVIDIA GPUs. There also continues to be users on the forums and mailing lists that offer up their old graphics cards to developers, but there doesn't appear to be many jumping on that offer. There's also been companies like PathScale to offer free graphics cards to developers.

The concept of this "open-source driver developer for one dollay a day" in a crowd-sourced model also assumes they'll be able to easily find qualified developers who want to be paid to work on the drivers. There's only one known open-source GPU driver case where a developer doesn't want to do any work until receiving money, beyond which the alleged developer isn't widely known.

With the funding levels being talked about for this proposed project, it's also not enough to attract any world-class talent or enough to get any developers with driver writing experience to part ways with their current job. It looks to be even less than what an entry-level programmer would be paid in any western country.

Another open-source graphics driver sponsorship model is the X.Org EVoC. The Endless Vacation of Code project from the X.Org Foundation is mirrored after Google's Summer of Code and basically where any student developers can get paid several thousand dollars to complete a task over a few weeks/months.

X.Org EVoC hasn't been widely promoted by the foundation, but with X.Org / Mesa / Wayland not being accepted to Summer of Code anymore, there's finally some new X.Org EVoC projects. The first X.Org EVoC project, which is now successfully completed, was working to bring up OpenCL support in Gallium3D.

It's a shame that the X.Org Foundation isn't widely and actively promoting EVoC or doing anything to better engage with universities or other institutions to try to bring in a new wave of open-source graphics contributors. X.Org still has a lot in its bank account that's sitting there most of the time (most of their expenses just go to funding developers for their annual conference and other XDC/XDS-related items) or paying their taxes (most recently, after they're already past due), etc. They've also collected money / membership dues from Oracle/Sun, Intel, etc in the past but haven't done so in recent years since the money has just been sitting around. It would be nice if the X.Org Foundation were to better engage on enabling new open-source contributors as they do have the resources available.

Anyhow, feel free to share your thoughts on the community-proposed driver funding model in this forum thread.
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Michael Larabel is the principal author of Phoronix.com and founded the site in 2004 with a focus on enriching the Linux hardware experience. Michael has written more than 20,000 articles covering the state of Linux hardware support, Linux performance, graphics drivers, and other topics. Michael is also the lead developer of the Phoronix Test Suite, Phoromatic, and OpenBenchmarking.org automated benchmarking software. He can be followed via Twitter, LinkedIn, or contacted via MichaelLarabel.com.

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