Google and open source, who needs who more?

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.

Matt Asay has a great piece over at C|Net today, describing attempts by open source to become more independent of Google, and essentially asking Google whether they are going to let open source leadership slip away from them.

But the question can also be looked upon another way. Who needs who more, Google or open source? (Picture from Wikipedia.)

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.