Google Donates to Open Source Eclipse Project
Open source may not be important enough for Google to release the code of many of its own applications and platforms. But the company nonetheless places a premium on supporting open source development by third parties, as it showed late last week when it donated $20,000 to support the Eclipse IDE project. Here are the details, and the insights they reveal about Google and the open source channel.
A mere $20,000, of course, is chump change to Google. But for an open source project like Eclipse, which develops a Java based software programming environment that supports a number of languages popular among open source programmers, the donation is an important resource that will help the project acquire new hardware for testing, according to the announcement of the award.
Moreover, throwing money at a project like Eclipse, one of the most popular open source development environments, ensures that Google’s support will trickle down throughout the open source channel. A lot of developers beyond those involved directly with Eclipse will be feeling the love.
Google’s Open Source Strategy
As a company that often keeps its own technological secrets under close guard, Google isn’t the most obvious supporter of open source development. True, the company likes to talk about how much it supports the lofty ideological tenets of open source programmers, whose visions often align with Google’s own proclaimed commitment to “do no evil.” It also offers important material resources to the open source community through its Open Source Programs Office (which is, by the way, the division of the company responsible for doling out the recent cash gift to Eclipse).
But Google is less willing to put its own code where its mouth is. Most Google applications and platforms are proprietary, and some might complain that the company’s record of supporting open source operating systems is at least a bit less than stellar. It suffered some bad press within the Linux community when it withdrew Linux support for Picasa last spring, for instance.
Still, regardless of Google’s somewhat peculiar and complex stance on open source, the company clearly realizes that ensuring the health of key open source projects like Eclipse is vital to its own well being. Why? For starters, of course, because Google relies heavily on some open source technologies itself. It wouldn’t have gone very far at all without Linux and Apache to power its servers, after all, and Android is the sine qua noneof Google’s foray into the mobile world.
But open source is also important to Google for another, less obvious reason. Simply by keeping a thorn pricked into the side of Google’s major proprietary rivals, open source projects implicitly serve Google. Applications like LibreOffice and Firefox are chronic threats to Google competitors like Microsoft and even, increasingly, Apple. Even if such programs steal only a limited amount of actual revenue from Google’s challengers, their simple presence guards against the sort of monopoly that could cause major problems for the company.
Ultimately, then, donations like the one Google made last week to Eclipse should be regarded as anything but acts of charity. They’re part of Google’s strategy to help itself. But they also provide real value to the cash poor open source channel, where every dollar counts infinitely more than it does in the proprietary world. And for that, open source lovers can drink a toast to Google.