Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Is Google helping open source?

.. or are good intentions stopping progress?

Over the last few months Google have released many interesting products that help users and website owners around the web. The benefits of Google Maps, Google Analytics, Google Sitemaps and the freshly released Google Calendar are not too difficult to spot. The collection of APIs that came along with (some of) these is of great help for developers who want create mashups or other nice extensions.

Everything seems to be great and with the APIs open source implementations get a boost.

But do they?

A more realistic view?

Over on use perl; rjbs is not too optimistic in his journal about the impact of the recent release of Google Calendar. He states that it hurts open source.

To say that this helps free or open source software is wrong and harmful. It hurts open source by providing a shiny, proprietary alternative.

This is a new view on the Google complex of applications and services. Google is open in the sense that it provides us with APIs so we can adapt the apps and services to some of our needs. The applications themselves are closed source. They carefully protect the inner works. And rightfully so. It is what they make their living with. And there is absolutely no harm in making profit. Not even the big profits like they are making.

The APIs do not always complete and unlimited access to the applications and there are simply too many features left out.

I think we'll see the same independently-developed extensions for Google Calendar that we've seen for Gmail: basically none.

This, I fear, could be a thing that works against Google. The lack of support for open source and truly open APIs that cover all functionality can cause a disappointment with developers. It can cool the enthusiasm for applications with great potential like Google Calendar.

With the launch of Google Calendar I hoped that it would fill one of my wishes for an easily shared online family calendar. So, I would not come home to an unexpected empty house or finding my kids hungry asking when and what I will cook for dinner.

However, I have read that an API for Google Calendar is in the works. And that might be a way to open up Google Calendars so you connect to Google Calendars from other sites and applications in both directions, reading and writing events. That would proof that I am being pessimistic about this.

But, still I think it is hard to believe that Google will provide such a full API. There would be no need for opening up the Calendar web application other than maybe have a look at your calendar away from your own home or work computer. But then again, you could probably just install Sunbird on a USB stick and take it with you anywhere you want.

Bottom line

Bottom line is that Google with all good intentions I think they posses might be causing open source development by simply putting out such good near complete applications. Hmm. Maybe we should ask them to create less functional applications. Now that is a weird idea!