Will Google Kill Open Source? (And Do Open Developers Have to Be Underpaid?)

As Google, built on open source, grows ever more powerful, it shapes the tech business profoundly. Will the last programmer left please turn out the lights?
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All of us who have worked for big companies know that executives don’t like bad information and have a tendency to shoot the messenger. Often problems that cripple a company are known, but covered up, for years before the result is so evident it can no longer be covered up.

I wrote one of the postmortems for IBM’s fall in the ‘80s. The problems I reported were largely mirrored by Microsoft in the ‘90s and I think we are seeing the beginning of these same problems with Google. Given people migrated many of these problems as they left IBM and moved to Microsoft in the ’90s, and that people are moving from Microsoft to Google, and that Google is moving very fast, I think we’ll see this business cancer likely to progress at record speed but, perhaps, not peak until Google is vastly more powerful than any other technology company has ever been.

The problems I’m talking about relate to the need for company executives to only want to hear that which is consistent with their existing views and to attack anything that is inconsistent. A better example would be with Iraq and the U.S. government; you may recall that early on the chief military officer testified there weren’t enough troops to protect that country after it the U.S. took it over. He was fired after being widely criticized disrespectfully by the administration for these views, which are clearly now known to be correct.

But Does the Same Trend Apply Broadly to Open Source?

Open Source is about sharing, but is it about candor? I’ve often compared Open to Transparent and I wonder if when we talk about the first we forget that it is the second that is the more important. Microsoft’s issues surrounded trust, and that speaks to transparent more than it does to whether or not you could see their source code. (And, coincidentally, you have to admit given their recent financials, they appear to be recovering nicely.)

People being people, why wouldn’t the same kind of problems that plague companies who have a tendency to cover up and conceal problems also apply in the Open Source community?

So what are the two topics with Open Source that should concern us but, because the discussion would trigger the famous Open Source FUD response, are being avoided?

1. What does Google’s extreme future dominance mean and, given Google’s success is significantly enabled by Open Source, will the outcome actually be better or worse, in the sense of “Freedom,” than it was during either IBM or Microsoft dominance?

2. Is Open Source part of the cause for what appears to be a continued trend to shift software intellectual capital and jobs, with an adverse impact on salaries and employment, to lower cost countries and cheaper technical labor?

The Rise of the Uber-Monopoly: Google

With SCO in the headlines and Microsoft on the offensive, Open Source was getting a massive amount of publicity, and vendors who wanted the related visibility appeared to embrace the underlying ideals. But that is marketing, and for way too many people, marketing and reality have very little connection to each other.

During the upswing companies like Red Hat were the poster child for the industry, but Red Hat has never been that profitable, at least not when compared to Google, who appears to be the primary beneficiary of Open Source, and companies like Novell have found profit elusive.

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