There are a lot of things about Open Source that are easy to get wrong, either intentionally or by accident. Given the number of folks who get it wrong, it’s pretty clear that it takes real leadership for a project that’s funded largely by a single company to commit to having external committers, manage IP rights in a responsible way, and really work to engage with a community outside of the folks who show up in the office every day. Speaking from experience, I can tell you that it takes real work to ensure that your project isn’t just a code dump or even a read-only subversion repository that just happens to be released under an open license. Real, credible, honest-to-goodness, 100 point open source requires a effortful selflessness that rarely comes naturally to individuals and even less often to companies. I’m blessed to work for just such a company, but the web development landscape is littered with badge-ware, source-available-but-not-open projects, and other abuses of the spirit of the Open Source development model.
It’s no small relief, then, to hear that Google is doing something incredibly mature: they’re taking their name off of Gears. This comes in addition to their previous commitments to keep development truly open and to collaborate with anyone who will help them. From a purely corporate stand-point, it’s the kind of move that takes cojones.
Google’s de-branding of Gears stands in sharp contrast to Yahoo’s half-assed Browser Plus effort which not only isn’t Open Source, you can’t even use it from non-Yahoo domains yet. It’s impressive work technically, and Gears could learn some things from YBP’s plugin architecture, but it’s entirely unclear how such a closed product will help address the fundamental risk facing the web today: we need a trustable, open way to rev the web faster. One that can’t be stopped in its tracks when a Microsoft or Netscape lose the interest or ability to push the web further on their own.
With Google’s move, they’re saying more clearly than ever to the Yahoo’s of the world: “dude, seriously, put down the proprietary and help us make the web better”. It’s my sincerest hope that the Yahoo’s, Ebay’s and Amazon’s, and IBM’s of the world will all heed the call and work with Google to push a truly open Gears further, faster. The web needs the open process, mature leadership, and important feature set that Gears is delivering. No less.