Google and open source, who needs who more?

Many important open source projects, like Firefox, are dependent on Google. The Mozilla Foundation draws most of its budget from the Google box on its software, even after Google has gone into competition with its Chrome browser.
Google is proof that the open source way is the profitable way. It has aggressively pushed code out the door, mainly under the Apache license, and has regularly hosted (even hired) important open source developers.
But Google is not dependent on open source. Google’s contributions can easily dominate a project simply because of Google’s size. The Chrome browser could have come out closed-source — it still lags in the area of add-ons, which are a key benefit to being open source.
Google has grown beyond the open source movement in other ways. Its Android project has evolved into a corporate club of carriers and manufacturers, as it needed to in order to gain market traction. HTC doesn’t support Google because Android is open source, they do so because it’s profitable.
The same could be said of Google’s Chromium project, a full operating system based on Chrome. Here again what Google is looking for is not the help of individual programmers, but of corporations, makers of hardware and complete applications.
There have always been two strategies in to open source, a business strategy and a development strategy. A development strategy, the kind Mozilla is based upon, depends on having a collection of allies, large and small, none of them dominant. A business strategy, the kind Google engages in, depends on leadership and control of a corporate ecosystem.
You can see the conflict. What is good for Google and good for an open source project may not always be the same thing. Google is big enough to deliver its own complete projects, licensed as open source, in order to fulfill its business goals. Open source project developers need more balance to their force.
It may just be that Google has grown up beyond open source. It’s like the tiger raised by a dog. It needs to be on its own, both for its own sake and the dog’s sake.
Reference:;col1 by Dana Blankenhorn


  • Google continues to wave the “Open Source” flag but they have left its principles behind. I question whether they really ever supported them. Can you download the sources for their search engine code? Do they document exactly what they are doing? Can you experiment with an alternative build for the Nexus one? I don’t think so.
    Google is also suffering from growth issues, as Microsoft and Apple have. They have done some really brilliant things with Android but it is almost as if they are more intent on being brilliant than providing a coherent and reliable experience for the users. Example: you still cannot voice dial with Android. The POP mail client is just bizarre. The Exchange client is incomplete.
    As for Open Source, this is also the mode of its failure. No true “Peoples Revolution” can ever achieve power without becoming part of the system itself. The sense of joyous anarchy on which the movement thrives is the very reason why it cannot ever really become an enterprise solution. No company will ever rise to become a comprehensive and complete solution of open source products because the movement will move past it. There will be “Better” darlings of its proponents and that will defeat success.
    Read Richard Stallmans essays on this … he doesn’t want and never did want it to be a commercial success. “Free” not “Open” he says. I agree. The intellectual and fun benefits of Open Source are better when it is in the hills and forests and not in the towns. The “Rightly guided” period of open source has pased.

  • why people talk about open source… while probably in their mind, they means free software ?
    to test it, question your self, do you care more about the free software price or the openness of the source ?
    are you user or programmer/ s/w developer ?

  • Hi Ali,
    Google needs OS more, as they’re part of the it, increasing OS and opportunities means increasing their own opportunities.
    Best regards,
    Gianluigi Cuccureddu

  • Google’s public open source involvement splits three ways: as a PR mechanism (look how open and lovely we are), as a ready body of software to embrace and extend for its commercial aims, and as a way of giving home-grown projects traction at the expense of competitors like Microsoft.
    That’s not to say that it’s a bad participant. Google’s commits to the WebKit browser project, for example, now eclipse Apple’s (the project underpins both Google’s Chrome and Apple’s Safari browsers). It also provides useful hosting for open source repositories, and as you rightly point out, is a major contributor to the Android mobile operating system.
    It’s also true that they’re primarily interested in corporate open source collaborators, but they’re the organizations with the clout to make major contributions. It’s harder for individuals to make an impact in an open source environment, which is an inevitable side effect of the movement’s growth. One way to get around this might be to create open source “unions” with specific aims in mind – for example, although Chris Messina’s Diso project is made up of individuals, they’ve been able to attract attention by grouping together around common goals .
    As for open source needing Google? It doesn’t. Sure, some projects use it for hosting, while others gain revenue from embedded Adsense. The same is true of commercial projects: the Opera browser is also funded through Google ads, but is closed source. If Mozilla wanted to sever ties with Google, I’m sure they could find another business model. (For example, see the corporate dual-licensing employed by many projects.)

  • One could say that Google’s entire search business is dependant on Open Source. The servers powering the core Google search system run on Linux.

  • When a corporation like Google provides/suggests a product, even if it is free, quite less people will start working with it. The point is that if the company’s solutions do cost money and only one of them is open source or free, people think that this one will be closed soon too.
    But if the corporation supports open source development and free products, the big community has some confidence and belief and they start working with that company.
    Also even if Google has that many resources, the community still remains bigger. Having open source products, Google can reveal Super minds and hire them. And why not use the existing perfect solutions.
    The open source community needs the Google as Google supports them. Even if it may not be materialized, just the name does cost enough.

  • The same could have been said about Sun Micro, who is now owned by Oracle…
    Let’s hope that Oracle and Google get together and even the playing field. Walls.

  • Since the market for embedded devices are booming and Google has the edge along with Apple. Since there software is compact and more energy friendly (ie battery life is extended). If Microsoft keeps its bloated OS, it does not have a future, they had a percentage drop from 12 to 9. Firefox is mainly for PC, Linux and Mac OS… So they will miss out if they do not join the fray…

  • HTC doesn’t support Open Source they give nothing back, they use Open Source………. has it opened sourced it’s Sense UI ??
    Same with Google, they use Open Source when it works to their advantage and that doesn’t mean that Open Source in itself is profitable ot has a business stratagy

  • I attended a presentation on the relative merits of proprietary against open source software a couple of years ago. There was no clear conclusion but in my view, for Open Source to be commercially viable you need a company that can supply a controlled and supported version that users can trust (e.g. Red Hat).
    If you get a truely open version then you don’t know who has done what to it and whether any component might have a malicious intent, unless you have employed someone to review the code line by line (probably OK for academics and home use but rarely in the commercial world).
    At the end of the day you don’t get much for free.

  • Google open Source – Doesn’t it sound like those free rider buses – they are free, but will only go to Ikea? Google is giving out free APIs for its products and people are building around it. At some level, the companies are buying into google dictated philosophy and architecture. Before adopting to such open source, there has to be a fall back strategy. While big corporates can easily manage this, the SMBs can easily completely collapse if a support is removed from Google.
    Personally I like google’s products, but I would not use their API into my product. If the design can be build independently, then it makes sense. Because then you are in the control of your situation. It simply doesn’t make sense to rely on to something thats there in the BETA phase for years and years.
    The ideas from google, are however really something to look at. Google suggest – for example is something that can be easily built with a minimum development into your architecture. It makes sense to copy such Free Ideas rather than the so called – Open source.

  • First of all, Chromium isn’t an Operating System. Chromium and Chromium OS are very distinct projects, and Chrome is a free product based on Chromium.
    Now, giving my thoughts on your question.
    Google, as we all know, is a very large company with many contributions to (F)OSS community. In fact, it’s a valuable exchange, since their infrastructure is almost entirely based on OSS.
    Given their market importance, the impact would be extremely huge if they just disappear tomorrow.
    However, taking it to extremes, Google is who depends on OSS and not the inverse, despite their immense contributions. The ecosystem would survive even in the worst case. And I can’t see it differently, since OSS community is much older than Google itself.
    An important thing Google brought to masses, is how to make money out of (F)OSS. The advertising model is another important contribution. These yes, surely would suffer the most significant impact.
    Clarification added 2 days ago:
    Just to emphasize, most of the great minds behind Google’s main projects are well known OSS contributors.

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