Has Google become evil in the eyes of open source?

Has Google become evil in the eyes of open source?

Summary: So what say y'all? Has Google become a greater threat to open source than Microsoft? Is Microsoft just throwing sand in our faces, seeking to split BSD from GPL? Or will we say, like Mercutio, "a plague on both their houses."


Romeo and Juliet 1996 filmAn exchange of e-mails between Bill Hilf of Microsoft and Chris DiBona of Google concerning Microsoft's OSI license application has drawn an interesting reaction in the press.

They're taking Microsoft's side. (Harold Perrineau Jr. played Mercutio in a 1996 film production of Romeo & Juliet. Wha? Read on.)

This is a major turning point, and shows just how far Google has come in less than a decade.

The Register offers a complete indictment:

Google has become the poster child for the software as a service (SaaS) abuse of open source software. The ad broker uses copious amounts of open code but gets around returning changes to "the community" by claiming it does not redistribute the code. Instead, Google simply places the software on servers and ships a service to consumers.

If you're unclear on Ashlee Vance's view of this, here's some more:

But which company is open source's biggest threat in 2007? The one clinging to an operating system and productivity suite monopoly? Or the one that controls your search queries, e-mails, instant messages, photos, documents and soon phone calls without ever discussing an open standard that will let you manipulate all that data or let you move it to a new service provider?

If we're talking about ideals, then I think Google is the bigger threat these days.

Let me state for the record that I am a big Google fan. They have built a proprietary powerhouse on open source.

But others see them as the John Edwards of software, a rich lawyer advocating for the poor, a hypocrite, complete with $400 haircut. (I'm also an Edwards supporter, by the way.)

So what say y'all? Has Google become a greater threat to open source than Microsoft? Is Microsoft just throwing sand in our faces, seeking to split BSD from GPL? Or will we say, like Mercutio, "a plague on both their houses."

[poll id=48]

Topics: Software, Google, Microsoft, Open Source

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  • Google is on the right side

    because they sponsor the OSS community and make M$ bleed in the search field.
    Linux Geek
  • Maybe they're both evil in their own ways?

    I don't think Google intentionally does "evil," at least as it relates to open source. I think the company wants to do the right thing.

    The problem is not Google. The problem is the license.

    It's hard to do the right thing when a not-quite-bad thing is legal and 100% permissible. I believe Google would actively give back to projects licensed under terms that require contributions back (like the OSL or CPAL, but probably not CPAL since Google would never taint its UI with logoware). We just need to require it of the company, and then Google can choose to use the software or not.

    The bigger concern with Google is that its non-evil stance on open source is insidious. Again, it's not Google's fault. It's living up to the licenses. But the more Google (and others) condition the market to think of open source as a commons to be used but not replenished (and "replenished" on a license's terms, not Google's), the worse it will be for open source.

    In sum, Microsoft may explicitly want to bury open source, and it should. Open source is a clear and present danger to its business model. Google explicitly wants to help open source but implicitly hurts it by using without contributing fully back (according to what open source licenses [i]should[/i] require of SaaS distributions, not what they actually do require).

    Acts of commission versus acts of omission. Both are "sins." But in the grand scheme of things, the former is worse than the latter.
    • Google sells ads accompanying searches.

      And search uses Google's only real software product. So the first question is, what can Google provide to the commons that will not damage its business?

      Should we assume that anything substantial Google can provide would give important clues to competitors about how Google search works?

      For a large company, thinking about the money helps.
      Anton Philidor
    • Microsoft is a clear and present danger to FOSS

      True. The big difference between Google and Microsoft is one of intent. Google hit on a business model that complied witht eh license and has no intebnt to destroy FOSS. Microsoft, however, wants to bury FOSS. It hasn't made any bones about it and its wrong intentions are clear.

      The question is, which one has done more hamr? Clearly, Microsoft's FUD campaigns and unfoubnded patent claims hace caused much damage. its schemees will eventually fall apart, as the SCO fiasco shows, but this will take time.
    • Accidentally evil?

      What Google should probably do is review its "do no evil" policy and how it relates to open source. It's good that they encourage open source but if they don't give back to open source, that would seem like hypocrisy. Not being directly evil to open source but still being evil to open source might seem even worse sometimes, just like a person who you considered to be a friend but not acting like it. However, as it's also a question of how they would go on with their business, it might be something tricky for Google to answer.
  • Private modification?

    Some people in the FLOSS community are worried about SaaS and are adopting licenses which they claim closes that "loophole". Others believe in protecting private modification of software (If you aren't distributing/communicating the software in source or binary form, then the license doesn't come into effect), and choose licenses that protect that right.

    The FLOSS community is large enough to offer licensing options for a wide variety of concerns.

    The view that Linus has of GPLv3 vs GPLv2 (He is only concerned about getting source code back and not concerned about IT property rights) could be said to be similar to the thinking I have about the GNU GPL vs the Affero GPL. Both of these relate to uses of software, and not simply access to the source code for publicly distributed binary code.

    I don't like licenses which prohibit private modification, and thus wouldn't contribute code to a project under such a license. On the other hand, as an IT property rights activist I don't want my software to ever be used in an environment where hardware is locked down to disallow the owner to make their own software choices. This is why I prefer the GPLv3 over every other license, and why I am trying to convince governments to make such attacks on IT property rights themselves illegal.

    I'm just glad that the GPLv3 didn't contain any anti-SaaS clauses, as I would be forced to choose between something I strongly agree with and something I strongly disagree with.

    As to Google? They are a massive contributor to a large number of projects, and I can't see anyone actually supportive of FLOSS thinking they have become "evil". I understand why Microsoft wants to bad-mouth a competitor, but that doesn't mean there is any legitimacy to the complaint from the company (Microsoft) furthest from the FLOSS community you can get.
    • SaaS is a key question here

      I haven't yet asked, is SaaS good or SaaS bad. Maybe I should.

      I have been told that SaaS is a key way for open source to make money. I have also been told, repeatedly, of the differences between open source and FLOSS or FOSS.
      • SaaS good/bad?

        I don't think the question of SasS is as simple as it being good or not, like the question of putting digital locks on something you don't own ("DRM") being good or not (I consider putting locks on something you don't own to be immoral and should be illegal).

        In the past there were only two major "branches" of the licensing/motivations in the Free Software movement: copyleft and non-copyleft.

        I believe questions around SaaS will form another axis of diversity, where some will support private modification of their software and some will not.

        As to FLOSS vs FOSS vs Free Software vs Open Source, I try to offer some suggestions on that at http://flora.ca/floss

        For me the question isn't whether the software is the same as it nearly always is, but whether the motivations are the same. And the FLOSS vs FOSS is really an anglo-centric vs international, where in countries in Canada the use of the "Libre" to clarify the meaning of the word "Free" makes the conversations so much more simpler. This is especially true of speaking with Canadian federal politicians and bureaucrats.

  • You forgot to add a poll option

    ... for CowboyNeal
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • What's he acted in lately?

      We like to help get people better roles here...<g>
  • The confusion with open source

    What you don't seem to realise, is that open source refers to anything where the source is publicly provided. This means it's also VB, C++ and lots of other code running on Windows. The vast majority of open source code is written on Windows not fringe OSs like Apple and *nix. This includes web-based open source as well. Unless you'd like to maintain that it's only written on the 5% of Apple computers (by the vanishingly small amount of Apple users who are technically inclined) or on the less than 1% of *nix desktops.

    The only reason open source exists today is due to Microsoft and the huge Windows market, not some group of ideological nerds trying to save the world.

    OSS is most easily developed when you have the best tools and unfortunately for the ABMers, that's MS.

    So Google can do whatever it likes, as long as MS provides the environment and the tools, OSS will be there.
    • Where do you come up with this stuff?

      Go to sourceforge, peruse the 11K+ open source projects and see, look learn that they started on Linux, and get ported to Windows. Shareware which is not open source is what you are probably thinking is widely available on Windows and not this "miniscule *nixes.

      It isn't the 1% of nix desktops that matters, it is the overwhelming numbers of Open Source servers.

      I also think you are very dyslexic in your reasoning. The Open Source software ecosystem is booming IN SPITE of the Microsoft dominance in desktop market share.

    • Code is written for people to use.

      Of course open source applications are being built to run on Micro$oft operating systems. Writers of OSS want their code to be used, and since a majority of computers run M$ operating systems, the code will be ported to Window$.

      This situation is unlikely to change until more hardware vendors offer buyers a choice of pre-loaded operating systems. My computer came pre-loaded with what you call *nix, but the hardware manufacturer also manufactured the *nix which I use.
  • Focus on the Question

    Though the posts so far are really quite interesting, some wander from the main question. Has Google become evil....... I submit not evil, but just a bit naughty. One of those who posted mentioned "Omission". I agree. There also seems to be a lot of attention to Licensing and the terms therein. I say, unless one intends to enter into a legal action, it just doesn't matter. As to Microsoft, do they not remain the devil we know? They achieved their market position by being intensely competitive. Their tactics have been legal if not admirable. I say they are a competitor not evil. Are not the evil ones those who covertly diminish the Open Source effort? I suggest that Google is the largest and most powerful of those doing so. The ethos is that you take something and you give something back. Google seems to give nothing back.