Google and Open Source

It's possible that Google may be the largest open source-based company on Earth. I'm guessing at that, and I might be wrong. Several years ago, in a conversation at Google with some of their honchos, one of them told me Google's plan was to have over a million servers behind its search service, all running on LInux. I don't know if that's come to pass yet. Or if it matters, frankly. But it's crossing my mind as I get ready to talk tomorrow (or soon thereafter) with Google's chief open source guru (technically, Open Source Project Manager), Chris DiBona.

The occasion is this announcement (and others like it, sure to come along).

If any of ya'll have some questions you'd like me to ask Chris, put them below, or send me pointers to wherever you've posted them (your own blog or publication, for example).


Doc Searls is the Editor in Chief of Linux Journal


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open source

Serg's picture

"Google may be the largest open source-based company on Earth." I quite agree with you. Even the various statistics is accessible to everyone

If enough of us..

gryphen's picture

keep asking Google how much longer we have to wait then I think they'll be inclined to answer.

google does not believe in opensource

Anonymous's picture

I understand their apps/algorithms are secret..

Why do they not give their linux kernel changes
back to the community? It is well known
that they have Google File System (GFS) which
would be some sort of high-performance distributed
file system.

Google basically takes all the linux kernel work from
open source community but does not give back to linux.

It is great that they are finally supporting some open source projects. But are they really giving back?

And the wine project

What Is's picture

What about the 100+ fixes that Google poured into wine during the Picasa development? That's not giving back?


Greece Travel's picture

Picasa is an excellent example of the "giving" that Google does. Sure, it makes millions daily, but until they start charging you for searching, its still the only search engine I always use.

there is not a rule

Jesus's picture

sorry man, but there is not a rule that makes Google to give back what you want about linux kernel or GFS...jajaja

They do not publish it beacuse dont have to... simply !!


Question - Give and Take

John's picture

FLOSS depends upon people giving to the community as well as taking from it.

Google is the largest open-source based company, has made billions, but has put very little back into the movement.

Taking Python as an example, Google makes extensive use of Python (as well as C++ and Java), but to the best of my knowledge their contribution back into Python consists of a single $2000 annual subscription to the Python Software Foundation, the gift of a Google tee-shirt to Guido van Rossum, and a few talks at conferences. No substantial investment to secure the future of the language (which Google could afford, easily), and no release of code.

This is a blatant abuse of the FLOSS movement, have Google any plans to put it right? The Summer of Code was a tiny start, but totally inadequate compared with the huge financial benefits Google have reaped.

Have you seen

Anonymous's picture

How about Summer of Code?
Scroll to Python Software Foundation

Or the Python Libraries they have donated to the OS community?

Or the $350,000.00 donation they have made to a joint open source technology initiative?

Google zeitgeist, earth

Anonymous's picture

It would be nice if Google Zeitgeist would publish the OS market share and browser market share numbers like it used to. I'm specifically interested in seeing more details about the Linux desktop market share.

Just put a disclaimer that it's not a scientific sampling.

It would also be great if Google Earth was ported to Linux. Right now it's yet another Windows app that alienates Linux desktops. Chris showed Google Earth running on a XP laptop at the Bellingham LinuxFest ;p


PierreS's picture

Do you plan to advocate for open-source projects,os through Google?
Is Vista and connected search a threat?
Do you plan to support Ubuntu,Solaris or any other Linux distro?
A Blogger plug-in for Word has been made.Any plans for an Oo one ?
Any plans for a page listing quality software recommended by Google?
Any plans to release more oss?
Will SoC be repeated?
Chris,the fact that Google support Oss rocks.

Help Linux Weekly News

Anonymous's picture

You might ask him what Google will do to help make Linux Weekly News, which we all depend on, economically viable.

If I may suggest

James's picture

Though Google may well be the largest software open source company. I'd like to propose what is probably the largest open source company. GM. Although their EULA/License does actually have a warrenty that protects the end user *grin*. Want to learn how to build a car? They send you on a tour, you can get books from the Library detailing to the most minute detail how the car is built. You can get all the information you need to build/modify/redesgn as you please.

Other commanalities, when you buy a car. You own it, Not GM, you. If you want to change something, adjust it, replace it. Go ahead. Want to take the engine for a Chevy and put it in a Pontiac? Go ahead. Want to modify the exhaust system for better performance? Go right ahead. You might void your warranty (that's reasonable) but it's your car do as you will.

Finally you can sell your car, and the person who buys it from you has full rights of ownership. Just as you did. More than one person can use the car, they don't charge extra for more passengers, or extra drivers in the family.

Granted you rarely can get a car for free. However to be free (according to Stalman) it must be as in freedom, not as in beer.

The metaphor

bmo's picture

I've always thought the DIY auto aftermarket/timkering/customizing thang was a great if always overlooked analogy for 'free culture'. Linux, open source, free culture - it's the NASCAR culture, really. It's the same impulse.

Gearheads and Geeks

The Monster's picture

Absolutely. Most people just drive their cars and use their computers. Gearheads, who bore out cylinders, install custom crankshafts, twiddle with timing, superchargers, etc., have the same mentality as overclockers, Gentoo users, and anyone who's ever tweaked source code. And now that automobiles are computerized, there's an intersection of interests: the gearheads want to be able to reprogram their fuel injection, ignition, automatic transmission; read the diagnostics from the computer, and are demanding access to the diagnostic codes that manufacturers only want authorized dealers to get.

how does it work?

wjl's picture

I'd like to know how Google (yes, the search engine) works. I mean - come on, it is pretty fast. Horribly fast. And I still cannot believe that putting a server in each country, then two, then three, until they sum up to a million is enough effort.

Maybe there's a university site where I could read all this, but having a link to that would help. I'm the guy that wants to learn as long as he can...


second class citizens

helios's picture

We realize that Microsoft has the Lion's share of the desktop market. We also realize that Google's road to wealth was paved with gold by Linux. We want to know, and not in generic "soon, very soon" answers.

When will Google give the Linux community Desktop 2, Google Earth and Deskbar?

It HAS been talked about on via:

They're working on it

linuxphile's picture

According to an article posted at eWeek yesterday,,1759,1877924,00.asp?kc=EWRSS03129TX1K000..., they are working on porting their apps to Linux. The message was be patient.

Linux versions of Google programs

amd-linux's picture


I understand that there are (could be...) business reasons for not offering the respective Linux/Mac versions. That is fine with me. I also understand that they can not open all the code for contractual reasons (Google Earth) or because the search alghorithm (Desktop2) it is one of their biggest assets.

However, the Linux community, that made Google possible, can expect that they at least

- publish the interface specifications for Google Earth
- they compile all these 3 Windows versions in a way that they can at least be used with Wine (Cedega or Crossover Office).

I yesterday tried to install GoogleEarth on Ubuntu on Cedega - no chance even to install it on the very latest Cedega. It is also still a pain to use Picassa on Wine.

So my question:
So if they cant / dont want to actively support Linux versions, why the heck can they not do the minimum and just give out the informations to developers that can be given and also try to compile their programs in a way that they can used with Wine on Linux????? To me it looks at the moment as if they do not WANT their programs being used on Linux/Mac.


Anonymous's picture

Is the Chinese Communist Party making Silicon Valley totalitarian faster than Silicon Valley is making China open source?

What's the % of Google people using Linux on the desktop internally?

Now that Google is so big, how do you share info within the co.? Is there a Secret Internal Google-Slashdot?

What's the real story with NAVTEQ? Can't you just buy them and make all the maps, like, all free and stuff?

Are there any governments that are so evil you wouldn't do business in a jurisdiction where you might possibly have to turn over a user's IP address to them?

google using Linux Servers

Prakash J Kokkatt's picture

Atleast google should increase their contrib to OSS community.