"You can expect My Tracks to become better than ever with the contributions we hope it will receive from other developers, and also that many applications which work side-by-side with My Tracks will be written," Google engineer Rodrigo Damazio said in an e-mail list posting Friday. "For instance, one could easily build an application for tracking fitness activities, geocaching, aviation, and so on."
The move means also means enthusiasts can help with translation and programmers can create spin-offs for which they can charge money if they desire, he added. The software is governed under Google's preferred open-source license, the Apache License 2.0.
My Tracks lets people track their location on a map; the software shows a variety of details including speed, average speed, elevation gain, and distance traveled. Trips can be shown on Google Maps, publicly or privately, and each trip's statistics can be added to a Google Docs spreadsheet.
When software is open source, anyone may see, modify, and distribute its underlying programming instructions. Google uses a lot of open-source software originally created by others--the Linux operating system, MySQL database, and WebKit browser engine, for example.
But it also releases some of its own software as open source, including its Android operating system, Chrome Web browser, Chrome OS browser-based operating system, and, planned for the summer of 2011, the software for the new Google TV project, which was announced last week at the Google I/O conference.
Also at the conference, Google open-sourced 18 fonts for use on Web pages. And, more significantly given the technical and legal obstacles, Google released royalty-free, open-source software for Web video called WebM.
Releasing open-source software can significantly undermine the value of a company's asset, making it harder to license to others for a fee and letting potential competitors use that software. But the move also can make strategic sense, for example when an open-source project helps to broadly advance a market a company is interested in or when it undermines a rival's proprietary software.