04 August 2006

Open Source Citizenship

There's a bit of a public ding-dong being conducted in the pages of some of the IT titles over what constitutes good open source citizenship.

Matt Asay kicked things off:

Aren't Yahoo! and Google missing the point or, rather, conveniently looking past it? Open source isn't about beneficent companies giving code to the impoverished underclass. It's about working on code collaboratively within a community.

To which Yahoo's Jeremy Zawodny replied:

So let's suppose that we decided to release "what we can" into the open source world. Of course, there'd be a lot of legal vetting first. Code licensing is a real mine field, but let's suppose that we cleared that hurdle. It would look as if Yahoo was doing exactly what businesses looking to get into open source are told NOT to do: throwing some half-baked code "over the wall" and slapping a license on it.

But I think that both are being somewhat short-sighted.

Neither Google nor Yahoo is obliged to share their code, since they don't distribute it. They are perfectly entitled to keep it snug within their respective corporate firewalls. In any case, it's unlikely to be widely useful to other projects, so the gift would be large token. But the point is they do both benefit from open source, and it is therefore in their interest to support it as much as possible.

The solution is not to chuck code "over the wall", but rather to help open source in other ways. Google, to its credit, is already doing this, with its Summer of Code projects, its tie-up with Firefox and mostly recently its open source code repository.

As I've written before, Google's track record is not perfect, but it's certainly better than Yahoo's, which might try a little harder at being a good open source citizen in this respect. All it requires is a few high-profile grants to needy free software projects. How about it, Yahoo?

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