Fair's fair with Google OneBox

Google is turning to the developer community to make its new enterprise search service a success. This open approach should be applauded

OneBox to rule them all, OneBox to find them. OneBox to bring them all, and in the darkness bind them.

Is this, as one Slashdot poster suggested this week, the key to Google's latest piece of search magic?

Not content with all-but conquering the Web search market, the company is now giving more attention to the battlefield of enterprise market. Its latest weapon is OneBox, which lets employees scour potentially hundreds of internal applications through a single search box.

OneBox is a significant move for Google and its rivals in enterprise services. It's also one that epitomises one particular approach to competition.

Instead of demanding adherence to heavily controlled standards, OneBox is a bet that open standards and collaboration can trump proprietary protectionism.

OneBox uses the best algorithms of the Googletribe, but these are of limited use if it can't also talk to the finance department's databases or the new CRM deployment. A few major players are already on board — including Oracle, Cisco and Salesforce.com. Google could try negotiating with hordes of enterprise software firms in an attempt to get that functionality added to their code base... but it's too clever for that.

Instead, Google hopes that third-party coders will create the modules that OneBox needs to thrive, through its Enterprise Developer Community. By making its API available under a Creative Commons licence, Google is throwing open the OneBox platform to the wider enterprise application industry. Its message is "work with us on this, and we'll let you share your efforts with the world".

This approach could be risky. In theory, another company could develop its own version of OneBox that plugs into the same modules and steal Google's market. Google isn't worried — and with its record in search and user interface design, the best you can say to any competition is good luck.

One big name missing from the list of OneBox partner was Microsoft. Google doesn't care — two teams of developers have already created a module that makes Exchange and OneBox the best of buddies — but it's a chance for Microsoft to show it's serious about innovation and interoperability that it shouldn't miss. It will come out the loser if it sulks instead.

There's no guarantee that OneBox will work with your particular requirements straight away, but every chance you or someone else can make it happen if it looks worthwhile. By playing fair, Google is giving itself much more chance of winning this particular fight.