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Linux distro 'elementary' grows up, starts paying developers

A new bounty program for the elementary OS is a sign of its maturity.

The elementary OS (the beginning “e” is lowercase) team has been making some big waves lately. First a video appeared that showcased the next version of elementary (code named “Isis”) and some seriously impressive updates, including visual polish not typically found in most software (Open Source or otherwise).

Then the team unveiled a large collection of paid bounties that they are making available via BountySource.com to help drive progress on new features and bug fixes of the popular little Linux Distro. That’s $5,000 worth of bounties.

The bounties available range from simple bug fixes (that will net someone $15) to building configuration plug-ins (that will bring in a fair bit more – $500).

And many of the bounties are to provide fixes for non-elementary projects as well, so these bounties will help other Open Source projects, such as this one (to fix downloads when utilizing WebKit2 in the Midori web browser).

This money was raised through the use of an optional “Pay What You Want” download system for the elementary OS installation images, combined with sales of elementary branded shirts, stickers, and the like. And while $5,000 may not be enough to finance a full-time developer, it sure as heck is enough to give the project a hefty development boost.

"The biggest complaint is that customers don’t know where their money goes when they buy a copy of elementary OS. BountySource gives us an opportunity to put the money out in the open,” elementary founder Daniel Foré said. “We’re excited that people have the opportunity to put their money specifically on the issues that are important to them."

Now, I'm mixed on bounties myself. I certainly don't consider bounties to be the end-all, be-all of encouraging targeted software development. That said, it makes a lot of sense here. This helps provide an incentive for individuals to target, as Daniel put it, those “last 20% bugs.” It also gives an opportunity to reward some long-standing developers of the project while, simultaneously, attracting potential new developers who may not have otherwise considered working on elementary. Smart.

(It also causes people like me to write articles about them. Well played, you cunning Linux nerds. Well played.)

Daniel also made it clear to me, when I got a chance to talk to him about this, that this is not just a one-time thing. This is very much something they would like to continue (funds willing).

All of which made me curious. How many people actually use elementary? While this young little Linux Distro has made its way into the DistroWatch Top 10 – ahead of long-standing Linux distros such as PCLinuxOS, CentOS, and Puppy – that doesn't really tell us how many people actually run the system.

According to elementary's founder, the current version has been downloaded roughly 1 million times. One million downloads. That sort of made my head explode.

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