Home / Google - we take it all, give nothing back

I have a new hobby: inventing advertising slogans for Google.

Being the nice guy that I am, I grant Google non-exclusive, non-transferable right to use those slogans in their marketing efforts.

Today, beside few new Google slogans, I give you the following shocking revelations:

  • open source doesn’t work as well as they tell you
  • Microsoft creates more open-source code than Google
  • how to bring down Microsoft

This post is for mature audiences only, ridicules Google and everyone who gets in the way, doesn’t use web standards and is not XHTML compliant.

Open-source - not working as advertised.

The popular theory (“myth” would be a better name) is that open-source works because of this positive feedback loop:

  • source code for product foo is released
  • it’s free so it gets used
  • if it doesn’t fully meet someone’s needs, that someone can code the functionality (since the code is open) and submit the changes back to project (something not possible if you use closed products like Windows or Office or Google)
  • those contributions improve the product for everyone else, so more people use it so more people contribute the code and so on. Sky is hardly the limit.

The good thing in this theory is that it doesn’t rely on kindness of strangers but on enlightened self-interest of those who benefit from free software. The bad thing about this theory is that in theory it works much better than in practice.

It’s all because of a weblog post by Google’s Adam Bosworth. Read it yourself, but the gist of it is that, according to Adam, commercial database vendors don’t understand the needs of companies like Google or Amazon or Federal Express.

Relational database rely on static schemas and there are no good ways to dynamically reconfigure databases without the disruption in service. Adam ends with a plea to open-source fairy:

My message is to the Open Source community that has, so ably, built LAMP (Linux, Apache and Tomcat and MySQL and PHP and PERL and Python). Please finish the job. Do for databases what you did for web servers. Give us dynamism and robustness. Give us systems that scale linearly, are flexible and dynamically reconfigurable and load balanced and easy to use.

This is why the theory of open source doesn’t work in real world. A multi-billion company has a clear need for software that works well for them but instead of investing in existing open-source projects like PostgreSQL or MySQL to make them do what they need, all they do is ask some magic, undefined entity they call Open Source community to do the work for them. For free.

Google - we take it all, give nothing back. Come work for us.

Let’s estimate how much money did Google save by using open source software that they would otherwise have to purchase. The operating system for tens of thousands of their computers. Web servers they use. All the Unix utilities they use. Editors, compilers and debuggers they use to write their code. E-mail smtp server. E-mail pop servers. Languages like Perl and Python. Databases like MySQL and PostgreSQL. It’s safe to say that if Richard Stallman was never born, the licenses for those kinds of software would cost them tens of millions of dollars.

And what does Google contribute back? Where are their patches to gcc, gdb, python, postgresql, sendmail, emacs?

Google - we leave open-source to Microsoft. Come work for us.

It’s very ironic that I can find more open-source code created by Microsoft and its employees ( RSS Bandit, IronPython, Windows Installer XML (WiX), FlexWiki) than by Google employees. Not saying that there aren’t any but they are certainly not easy to find, even when I use mighty search engine trying to find google open-source.

Google - we like our hardware cheap and our software free. Come work for us.

If you’re into this stuff you know that Google is known for it’s highly tuned process of selecting hardware components (i.e. all those thousands of computers they need to index and store the web) to hit the best price/performance ratio. In a way, they use the cheapest thing, when you define the cost as the total cost of ownership (as opposed to simply the cost of buying the hardware). Thanks to Adam’s admission:

Indeed, in these days of open source, I wonder if the software itself, should cost at all?\ we also know, that they like their software free.

As a side note, it’s a surprising statement coming from Adam who knows very well that writing software costs a lot. Open-source doesn’t eliminate this cost, it just shift the costs and allows unlimited number of free-riders, like Google.

I’m picking on Google, but they are not alone. Amazon, Yahoo, eBay, aol. Any large business that uses web as means of providing services and making revenues is enjoying enormous savings by using open source stack on their back end. And what do they contribute back? A good approximation of zero compared to benefits they reap.

Another irony: compared to this bunch Microsoft looks good, they are the only ones that did pay for the software they use on their back-end

The thing is: I actually believe that positive feedback loop in open source is possible. Except that it requires enlightenment on the part of executives at all those companies. They should recognize that they should invest in improving in open source software that they use as their infrastructure. Not out of gratitude but because it makes good sense in the long term. It’s the cheapest way for them to get software they use for building their services.

But Adam’s example shows that there’s a fat chance of this happening. Adam is not a rank Google employee. He was not hired to give free massage to stressed Google employees. Before Google Adam was a high-ranked executive at Microsoft and BEA. He led teams that created successful products (IE, Access among them). He’s in position to influence what Google does. He understands technology, he understand the cost and difficulty of making software. He has a weblog and deep thoughts. If only he understood the strategic value of open source.

If someone like Adam cannot see further than the tip of his own nose and his ideas are as bold as asking others to write the software he needs for free, then I don’t have much hope for anyone at aol to get it either.

The Art of War - how to bring down Microsoft.

As an additional bonus, my prescription on how amazon, yahoo, ebay, aol and ibm could band together and bring down Microsoft. The reason Microsoft is a competition to almost anybody who gets big, including yahoo, aol, ibm and google, is that in order to fuel their growth, they have to enter every profitable, software-related business. They are late to almost every party, be it web browser, game consoles, instant messaging, free web e-mail, webloging, decent search but they’re still a formidable enemy because they can fund those businesses longer than anybody else thanks to their cash cows: Windows, Office, SQL Server and Exchange.

Kill those cash cows and Microsoft has nothing. They can no longer support money-loosing businesses for years.

At this point no other company can hope to make good business in those markets. There are open source alternatives but they are not good enough to make switching to a non-Microsoft solution a possibility.

Combine the resources of google, yahoo, aol, ibm and invest serious money into open source projects. Improve Linux, drivers, desktop apps to be as good as Windows. Invest in Open Office to kill Office. Invest in Firefox so that there’s no reason at all to use IE. Invest in Thunderbird so that it can replace Outlook, including Exchange connectivity. Invest in PostgreSQL to kill SQLServer. Invest in something to replace Exchange. And be prepared to hire 50 thousand available Microsoft developers.

Google - do no Evil. Do no Good. Just like everybody else. Come work for us.

Let’s consider the moral side of the story. Is Google (or any other company) that benefits so much from open-source obliged to contribute back? And I don’t mean in a token way, like donating $100 to Mozilla foundation. I’m talking about investing at least 10% of estimated savings back into open source. Either by donating money to established venues like EFF, FSF, Mozilla Foundation or by hiring developers to spend all their time developing the code for open-source projects.

In those days of focus on corporate profits (where there any other days?), Google’s motto “Do no Evil” is refreshing.

Or is it? It’s a nice soundbite, but when you think about it, it’s really a low requirement. There are very little things that deserve to be called Evil. If a senior citizen is taking a nap outside his house on a sunny day and you kick him in the groin - that’s Evil. Most other things are bad or neutral. Not doing Evil is easy. Doing Good is the hard thing.

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