Open Source: Architecture or Goodwill?

Sparked by a debate between Jeremy Zawodny and Matt Asay about whether companies like Yahoo! and Google are good Open Source citizens, Tim O'Reilly has posted an interesting Radar piece about the future of Open Source in a world that is increasingly web-based. From the post by Tim:
There are a lot of reasons why people make their code open source. I believe that one of the strongest original motivations has often been overlooked. Our hagiography tells the tale of how it all started with the quest for software freedom. But contemporaneous with Richard Stallman's story, other people were taking the same path (releasing source code) for a very different reason: the architecture of Unix.
The Software as a Service movement certainly has the potential to shake up what Open Source means to software. Tim makes some insightful points.
But in the world of Web 2.0, applications never need to be distributed. They are simply performed on the internet's global stage. What's more, they are global in scope, often running on hundreds or thousands or even hundreds of thousands of servers. They have vast databases, and complex business processes required to keep those databases up to date.
As a result, one of the motivations to share — the necessity of giving a copy of the source in order to let someone run your program — is truly gone. Not only is it no longer required, in the case of the largest applications, it's no longer possible.
That's why companies are having to think about new ways to “open source” their product. In the O'Reilly Radar Executive Briefing at OSCON, we looked at three of those ways:

The GPLv3 does make an attempt to address some of this issue, but the software world is rapidly changing and we could very well be at an inflection point. Open Source may very well have to go through an evolution to keep pace. Here's hoping our leaders and visionaries are listening. Indeed, as Tim says, the story has not been written.
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Andrew Morton Moves To Google

In a move I somehow missed a couple days ago, Andrew Morton is now employed by Google, where he'll continue to maintain the 2.6 Linux kernel. From the article:
The reason for this odd statement is explained by who was funding Morton's employment to begin with. Morton was named a full-time Open Source Development Labs Fellow in July 2003, and it is a common misperception that he was directly employed the OSDL. In actuality, Morton was employed by Palo Alto-based Digeo Interactive.
“My position there was funded by OSDL so that I could work on the kernel full-time,” Morton said in an interview with Linux Today.
Until recently, the arrangement worked very well for the developer, who is oft-times referred to as Linus Torvalds' right-hand man. But recently, changes began to take place.
“There were reorganizations at Digeo which would have changed my work situation in ways which were not attractive, and it was time to move on,” Morton explained.
The OSDL offered to directly employ Morton while he worked from home, but Morton indicated that he preferred to work in an office with other engineers. Thus a search for a new home was underway.

He also added his desire to work for a company that did not have a vested commercial interest in the kernel. On the heels of the Google Code Project Hosting announcement, Google is clearly stepping up its Open Source support.
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Google announces hosting for open source projects

The Google service I mentioned previously has been officially announced. Google Code Project Hosting is a place for Open Source project that fall under an approved license to host their code. While it shares some features with SourceForge, it's a much more minimalist approach (although they do add that it's not yet feature complete). They do specifically state that they do not intend to compete directly with SF:
Stein says, “We really like SourceForge, and we don't want to hurt SourceForge” or take away projects. Instead, Stein says that the goal is to see what Google can do with the Google infrastructure, to provide an alternative for open source projects.
DiBona says that it's a “direct result of Greg concentrating on what open source projects need. Most bugtrackers are informed by what corporations” and large projects need, whereas Google's offering is just about what open source developers need.

While Google does not offer project web site hosting (Google pages isn't integrated, but is an alternative), forums, etc. – many SF projects don't seem to use them anyway. What Google is offering seems to directly target the places where you hear the most complaints about SF, and that's: reliability, search and version control. You have to assume it will be reliable as it's Google. The same goes for the quality of the search (although to be fair the SF search has improved somewhat recently). The CVS support at SF was horrific and they still seem to be ironing out the kinks in their SVN support. Google is offering SVN with their custom Big Table backend, so it should be extremely scalable. The issue tracker the site uses is one developed by Google. I'd guess the long term impact of this on SF won't be clear until we see what the Google offering looks like feature complete. For now, both sides seem to be looking forward to a peaceful almost symbiotic coexistence, which shows the maturity and solidarity of the Open Source community.
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A New Google Service

I was already disappointed that I wasn't able to attend OSCON this year (it's an absolutely fantastic event). Then I saw this. At a talk on Thursday, Greg Stein will be releasing details about a new Google Service for the Open Source community. Let the speculation begin. Is it an Open Source code repository searchable via Google technology? A SourceForge-esque operation? A source repository from Google? We'll see in about 48 hours :)
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eBay Bans Sellers from Using Google Checkout

It appears that eBay has now prohibited sellers from accepting Google Checkout. From the Accepted Payments Policy:
Payment Services permitted on eBay:, Bidpay, Canadian Tire Money, cash2india, CertaPay,, hyperwallet,com,,,,,, XOOM
Payment Services not permitted on eBay:,,,,,,, CCAvenue, ecount, e-gold,,, EuroGiro,, Google Checkout, gcash, GearPay,,,,, Liberty Dollars,,,,,,, paypay, Postepay,,,,, stamps, Stormpay,,

It also adds: As described in our safe buying guide, eBay strongly encourages sellers to offer payments through PayPal – PayPal is not only convenient to use, but it also offers buyers and sellers industry leading protection against fraud, chargebacks and theft of financial data. Merchants with their own merchant credit card processing account, and those who use a third-party credit card processor, may also offer their buyers the option of paying directly with a credit card online (including through third party checkout) or by phone.
Never mind that eBay owns PayPal, or that PayPal has a long storied history of not doing what's in the best interest of the customer (disclaimer: LQ had a major PayPal issue that was well documented at the time. Due to the popularity of LQ, I was able to remedy the situation in the end, but I can say first hand that their customer server was appalling and the experience disconcerting). Now, that's not to say that Google Checkout won't have its problems. We'll have to wait and see on that. But with many years of paying AdSense customers under it's belt it seems odd that Google as a company doesn't stack up favorably against (whom is directly tied to PayPal, BTW) or Canadian Tire Money. Now, I can see why eBay as a company may feel threatened by the prospect of Google being able to eventually tie together GTalk, Google Checkout, Froogle, AdSense and Base. It could be a serious threat to eBay's business. But you have to think that this would constitute using a monopoly in one area to unduly influence another area. I'd be surprised if either something doesn't give or a lawsuit isn't filed in the very near future on this one. eBay obviously wants to take advantage of the network effect as much as the can, but this may have crossed the line.
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Google Launches Checkout… and other Google Musings

After months of speculation, Google Checkout has finally been officially launched. The release is, as you'd expect, being covered pretty much everywhere, including the New York Times and TechCrunch. One thing that I'd say is being consistently misreported (at least by the mass media type outlets), in my opinion, is that this is a direct PayPal competitor or “PayPal killer”. While it's true that Checkout is a way to accept payments, it doesn't have the person-to-person functionality that PayPal has, nor many of the other features. It's simply a slightly different beast and is more akin to Microsoft wallet. That being said, this does target many merchants that currently do use PayPal and there is clearly a good amount of overlap. I've had my personal problems with PayPal in the past, and if nothing else this should serve to make PayPal clean up it's act. It will be interesting to see if either PayPal or Google eventually move their respective services to be considered as a banking service, which would open them up to quite a bit of regulation, but also quell the fears many people have with this kind of service. That stands especially true for PayPal, which allows you to store money and carry a balance. The one thing that worries me about the system is that, as Google adds new services to their lineup, they continue to do so under a unified Gmail username. That means that if your email username and password get compromised, you could be in a world of trouble. Considering that most people are way too lax with their email credentials and even use unencrypted protocols over shared wifi, this could be a recipe for disaster.
On to the actual service, Checkout is “a checkout process that you integrate with your website, enabling your customers to buy from you quickly and securely, using a single username and password. And once they do, you can use Checkout to charge their credit cards, process their orders, and receive payment in your bank account”. Unlike PayPal, you can't use the service to pay for goods without an account (recall that PayPal was like this for a long time also). Like most Google offerings, the API to this looks pretty nice. What's more, if you participate in Google AdWords, which generates the lions share of current Google revenue, you stand to potentially use Checkout for free. For every $1 you spend on AdWords, you can process $10 for free with Checkout. It should be noted that an AdWords account is not a requirement of using Checkout. This marks a turning point for Google I think. While Checkout is clearly very tied to AdWords and will certainly increase the amount of users that advertise with the Google network, this represents the first real alternative income stream that Google has added in a long time. This could be good and bad. Of course you don't want 100% of your revenue coming from one place, but that setup does allow you to focus your energy with laser-like precision. The more revenue streams you have, the less focused you become. I think Google struck a pretty good balance here, considering the two stream are so intertwined.
This focus issues brings up another interesting point with Google though. Google has traditionally been a very nimble company that has a corporate culture all its own. As they continue to grow and continue to add “seasoned veterans” from the likes of Microsoft and other big players, one has to wonder if they can keep their culture intact. These seasoned veterans come with a lot of history and a way of doing things that is steeped into who they are. It's hard for people to change and there is a very real chance that as the number of these type of employees grow, Google will becomes less nimble and more stodgy. There's certainly no sign of it yet and Google somehow has a way of avoiding pitfalls that it seems certain to fall into, but it has to be something that's on the minds of both the Sergei/Larry/Eric triumvirate and the lower level Google employees. It's a topic I'll certainly keep my eye on moving forward.
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