Google: the Godfather of Open Source?
It's well known that Google runs its vast array of servers using a custom version of GNU/Linux. But this is only one aspect of its support for free software. Others include its Summer of Code, now well established as an incubator of both coding talent and projects, and more recently its open source code repository, which offers a useful alternative to Sourceforge.net. Similarly, in porting Picasa to GNU/Linux, Google has made contributions to Wine, while open source projects in Sri Lanka have been the beneficiaries of more direct help, to the tune of $25,000.
But Google is also operating behind the scenes to bolster free software in other ways. For example, it came as a surprise for most of us to learn that the Mozilla Foundation was earning some serious money – figures of $72 million were bandied around - from the use of Google search as the default for Firefox's search engine. This deal alone must effectively pay for a good chunk of the Mozilla project.
In January 2005, Google hired Ben Goodger, the chief engineer for Firefox, in what is proving to be just one of several such moves by key open source coders. At the end of last year, Guido van Rossum, the creator of Python, also joined Google. And most recently, Andrew Morton, the Linux 2.6 kernel maintainer, has announced that he is leaving OSDL to work for the company.
This represents a significant shift in the way the free software community works.