Why You Can't Be Half-Open - InformationWeek

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7/17/2008
11:36 AM
Serdar Yegulalp
Serdar Yegulalp
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Why You Can't Be Half-Open

Back when I was at the Red Hat Summit in Boston a few weeks ago, one of the panelists commented that the open source community takes a very exacting view of openness. You can't be half-pregnant, he quipped -- and you can't be half-open, either. Google's recent gaffe with the Android SDK (pending a more benign explanation of events) stands out as an example.

Back when I was at the Red Hat Summit in Boston a few weeks ago, one of the panelists commented that the open source community takes a very exacting view of openness. You can't be half-pregnant, he quipped -- and you can't be half-open, either. Google's recent gaffe with the Android SDK (pending a more benign explanation of events) stands out as an example.

A good deal of how Google works in the first place revolves around controlled tension between being open and accessible, and being proprietary and secretive. Anyone can use Gmail (open), but the code for it is their business (secret); likewise, their search APIs are open to the public but the algorithms that drive them are not. And so on. That said, nobody really grouses about Google not giving away its algorithms for free, though; it's how they monetize everything. It's their system and they can offer, or withhold, as they please.

Now take the recent kerfuffle over the different editions of the Android SDK. The problem here is that what Google seems to be giving freely with one hand, they take away with another -- or rather, what they give with one hand, they give more of to someone else with another. Suddenly, there's the perception -- and perceptions mean a whole heck of a lot in this world, lest we forget -- that Google is playing favorites. Playing favorites equals not so open.

I hinted above that there could be a perfectly benign explanation for all this -- e.g., maybe the NDA version of the SDK that Google was offering to a select few had alpha/beta-level stuff that they didn't want everyone running wild with and misreporting the significance of. Whatever the reason, Google needed to do a better job ahead of time of keeping the community -- you know, the people who are actually going to make Android into something more than just a nice idea -- in the loop.

It's the difference between saying, "Hey, guys, we're going to do this, have fun!" and "Hey, guys, we're thinking about doing this -- we only have a limited amount of time to make a decision but we wanted to hear from you before them. What do you think?" Which one of those two approaches do you think the open source community, regardless of the venue, would rather hear from a prospective partner?

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