December 13, 2006 12:52 PM PST
Newsmaker: A look inside Google's open-source kitchenSee all Newsmakers
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Which versions of Linux do you use?
DiBona: We use Goobuntu, which is our version of Ubuntu, internally for our desktops. And then we derived our server systems from an old Red Hat install, but it has changed so much that's it's really our own now. We used to track with Red Hat when it came to operating systems, but now it's so trimmed down and different that it's really not that anymore.
You use Ubuntu on the desktop, is there any reason for that?
DiBona: Well, the founder went into space! We just really like it, we think it's really well-executed, and it's really user-friendly. It's also very well managed. It's a very up-to-date distribution. It's very secure. It's very well-written. They started with Debian, and they made it really nice. I think they did a great job of it. Of course, we modified it so it runs on our network and provides the kinds of tools that our software developers use.
Are you contributing the Google versions of Linux at all to the community? Or do you not have to?
DiBona: We don't have to. We do use some stuff for the search appliance, and that's on our Web site, because we have to release it.
You can talk about our open-source compliance, which is different from our open-source outreach. The most important thing is to be compliant with the open-source license, we do that first. Then we have activities like the Summer of Code, and funding things like Net Trust, that we do on top of it.
And when you fund projects like Net Trust, do you require it to be under a specific open-source license?
DiBona: We generally prefer the Apache license, but we're willing to work with people.
Why do you prefer the Apache license?
DiBona: It is really easy to comply with by the users. We don't have any problem with compliance around things like the GPL (General Public License), and the LGPL, and the MPL, and the CPL, and all those others. It can be kind of difficult for users. We want to make things easy, so that when we fund work, they're able to take advantage of the work that we're funding.
How does Google view the mix between open source and closed source? You appear to be a nice example of a mixed-source company.
DiBona: They clearly do live together. We have a lot of software we'll never release that runs on top of the open-source base distribution that we use here.
Sun open-sourced Java. Does that make a difference for you?
DiBona: We use a fair amount of Java, and it's nice that Java is open-source now. I think it's really good for Sun to have done that. For us--the way we ship our software, and the way that we display it to our users on Google.com--the open sourcing or not of Java didn't really matter all that much. But we're really glad that they did it.
Does it give you more flexibility?
DiBona: It absolutely gives us more flexibility. In the past, if we found a bug in Java, it was a lot harder. You had to actually have a special agreement with Sun if you wanted to patch your own Java. We had that agreement, but now it's a lot easier for us to get those patches out through Sun itself, and get it out to the community if we so choose.
What do you feel is the great benefit of open source?
DiBona: It's all about flexibility for us. The terrific thing about open-source software is that we don't have to ask anyone's permission before we make changes to our operating systems. We don't have to ask anyone's permission before we make changes to our databases. We don't have to pay any per client license fees for these things. This is really important, not just from a cost savings point of view, but from a flexibility and speed point of view.
We get terrific value from being able to do what we like with our computers. Nobody is incentivized to tell us no--none of our competitors, none of our friends. It's really remarkable. I wish that more companies would recognize this. There is a very real cost to buying software that is well beyond the financial. Buying software means you have to really trust who you interact with, because they know things about you. And they have the power to slow you down, so you have to be very careful when you pick your partners. The great thing about open source is you are your own partner.
Yet proprietary code is very important to Google as well. Is it important to keep your business secrets secret?
DiBona: Yes, for sure! We couldn't very well release any of the ranking functions. Not because of security through obscurity or anything bogus like that, but because those techniques themselves are a part of the war. It's more like releasing the key to cryptography rather than releasing cryptography itself.