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Google saga, episode 204.
I really wanted to put this Google thing to rest but Adam’spassionate response prompted me to, once again, demonstrate my inability to understand basic facts and demonstrate my narrow minded, gasps-in-horror-invoking, world view.
In his latest post Adam launches a desperate effort to show that Google doesn’t have to contribute back to open source, despite enjoying enormous benefit specifically from open source software.
At the same time Chris DiBona, Open Source Program Manager at Google, commented on Adam’s weblog that Google does indeed contribute to open source and we’re just lazy and uninformed if we don’t see that.
Seems that Google’s party line on that subject isn’t yet worked out.
Adam is about fourth person that made the following argument in response to my post: it’s ok to not contribute back to open source because Google contributes so much otherwise back to the world in general.
Google - it’s not a platform
I don’t understand what is, in the context of this debate, the message behind the story of how building software becomes easier because of improvements to Windows. As much as it’s true, it’s irrelevant.
It’s true that improvements e.g. in Windows platform make writing software that does more easier and easier. Switch from DOS to Windows made it possible to write apps with graphical UI (something that was possible but prohibitevely expensive in DOS). .NET also promises significant improvements in programmer’s efficiency etc.
Google cannot claim to be such a platform. Oh, do I hear Google API? Read their TOS and pay attention to 10k daily limit and “personal use only” clause. It’s as if Microsoft said that I can write Windows apps, but only for my personal use and couldn’t sell them.
Google has an inherent conflict of interest. They make money partly by licensing their search technology. It’s hard to imagine any service that uses Google API and doesn’t compete with Google. By definition, it would be a superset of what Google does. Google will never loosen their grip on their search results. They will never become a valuable platform for others to freely use.
Google - get free stuff, love us back.
What is more clear is that Adam wants us to just love Google for all the free stuff they give us and don’t ask any hard questions.
Except, none of this stuff is free. Google is in advertising business and it turns out that it’s a very good business.
While you and me don’t have to pay for Google’s search, gmail, Blogger or groups, there are people who pay. A lot.
It’s simply Google strategy to give those things for free to general public (in the advertising industry known as “eyeballs”) and making money from ads they embed within search results, gmail or groups. I don’t know what’s the business behind Picasa or Keyhole but there’s someone inside Google who does (or thought he knew and is not looking for another job).
Google’s products and services are not free, we pay for them dearly, with our eyeballs.
Google - the selfish Giant.
Adam evokes Newton’s humble admission “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” Newton knew that we all benefit from what came before therefore the value of our own contributions, as big as they might appear, is relatively small. But to Adam it’s not about modesty. In his re-interpration of Newton’s words, the open source software is the giant on whose shoulders Google stands.
I’ll go with this analogy and point out that it’s one thing to be Newton, who made invaluable contributions to pool of knowledge and offer it without restrictions to all of humanity.
It’s quite another to be a corporation that stands on shoulders of others but does not allow others to stand on their shoulders. Google might be a giant but it’s a selfish giant.
The gentle art of insult.
Notice that I did equate Chris and Adam with Google. You would think that I would respect Adam’s request not to do it. You would think that Adam would respect his own request not to do it. He starts his response by not so subtly labeling Dare as “Microsoft apparachik” (a really good one) and me as an “open source denizen”. He does that to imply that all we say comes from either Microsoft or open source agenda as if we had no brains of our own and were unable to utter one thought that is not meant to further the goals of our corporate masters. Believe me, I worked at Microsoft and it doesn’t pay *that* well.
The ironic thing is that Adam worked at Microsoft longer that me and Dare combined. I worked at Microsoft longer than Dare (although I no longer do). And Dare wrote much more open source code than I or Adam did.
So who exactly should be called Microsoft apparachik and who deserves to be called open source denizen is a matter of dispute, but you should never let facts stand in the way of an insult.
It’s not about Google.
It’s too bad that all Adam sees in my post is criticism of Google.
The reason I wrote it was Adam’s unfortunate plea to open source developers to write, for free, very specific piece of software that would benefit mostly large companies (as opposed to you and me). Companies that have enough cash and resources to fund such software. That just crossed decency line for me.
If it was written by Amazon’s employee or Microsoft’s or Yahoo’s, I would frame my argument as criticism of Amazon, Microsoft or Yahoo. I enjoy kicking, who’s laying on the ground doesn’t really matter. In case you haven’t noticed, this is a weblog without honor or humanity.
The real point, if you can see it.
My real point was that those companies, instead of shamelessly asking for free lunch, should strategically invest in open source products that are vital to their business but are not their core business. For example, I wouldn’t suggest Google to open source their crawler, because that’s one of their competitive advantages. But if they use Python often and it has flaws, they should pay their people to fix them and release fixes back to public, so that everybody can benefit.
That’s how open source is supposed to work, but, according to the real world, doesn’t.
Please tune in next week for another episode of Google saga. Am I really Adam’s twin brother, separated at birth? Are we both in love with the same girl, Ada, who vanished 2 years ago, changed her sex and her name and is now best known for her involvement with XML community?

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