“In the next year we will make a series of announcements and spend hundreds of millions on innovations and giving them away as open source,” said Vic Gundotra, the new head of Google’s developer programs.
Google believes that innovation on the Web has been lacking. XML and HTTP Request were innovative technologies in 1998, but it took until April 2004 for an application, Gmail, to really take advantage of them, Gundotra said.
The initiative to gift Google’s technology to the Web community at large comes from co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. “Google was born on the Web. Larry and Sergey and the rest of Google built Google on the Web and with open source. They want to give back,” Gundotra said.
The idea is that by making the Web a better platform, through open sourcing core software technology, innovation will accelerate and improve the overall Web experience for all. But the Googlers are not being purely altruistic.
“It also makes good economic sense. The more applications, the more usage. More users means more searches,” Gundotra said. And, more searches means more revenue for Google. The goal is to grow the overall market, not just to increase market share.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt seemed quite confident about Google doing both based on his Analyst Day remarks: “The primary goal of the company is to make money,” he said. The way to make money is riding the massive transition to cloud computing across search, ads and apps.
Google wasn’t the only company to come up with offline technology. Zimbra, recently acquired by Yahoo, developed a solution as well. But in this game, scale does matter.
Gundotra wasn’t forthcoming on what other technologies would be open sourced, but creating an identity fabric for the Web, a distributed social graph and mobile and data interchange standards are logical candidates. “You can foreshadow what Google will do by looking at what we have done,” Gundotra said. “We will use simple, open Internet standards and make them available.”
One of the problems today is that there are different standards for creating gadgets (also known as widgets) for different services. This forces developers to build for fewer services, slows down innovation and creates more complexity for user.
Currently Google uses several open source licenses. I asked Guntodra whether Google has settled on a specific license for the more ambitious open sourcing of Google code. He said no comment, but there would be some news shortly.
In addition to speeding innovation to the Web a better, Google will push forward on opening access to its products and services, as it has with Gdata, Gmail, Picasa and other services. “We want developers to stand on our shoulders,” Gundotra said. The company is expected to offer access to Orkut social networking and iGoogle APIs next month.
According to Gundotra, Google is happy to create a more level playing field by giving away core code (not the revenue generating search or ad technology) to application developers. “If the motive is to drive usage on the Internet, it’s ok. We hope users will love to use our products and that they are useful to developers, such as gadgets.”
On the question of a Google browser, Gundotra answered cryptically, “We have a lot of people to make the Web better.” Google might open source technology to browser makers such as Mozilla, Microsoft and Apple, but it’s not clear if they will embrace them. It’s not a big stretch to think of Google reinventing the browser or doing something with the Firefox code if Mozilla isn’t innovating fast enough to satisfy Larry and Sergey dreams for the Web as a platform.
Google is also considering ways to provide infrastructure services to developers. Currently, gadget developers can serve their code of Google’s servers, but the company has been coy about broader usage.
“Google is a world class leader in scale infrastructure, and we hope to apply it to the Web, but we have no announcement at this time,” Gundotra said. It would make sense for Google to provide services to smaller developers similar to what Amazon does with its S3 and Elastic Compute Cloud as a way to bring more innovation quickly to the Web.
Gundotra came to Google from Microsoft, where he spent 15 years. His last position was general manager for platform evangelism and he was instrumental is developing .NET and Microsoft’s Web services strategy.
In June 2006, Gundotra decided was no longer a place to change the world and joined Google.
“It became obvious the Web was the platform,” Gundotra said. Three years ago Microsoft Office was at the center his computing universe–today it is Facebook, Gmail, Gcal and other applications born of the Web, he explained during dinner in San Francisco with a few members of the press.
“Others talk about the Web, but with an accent. Microsoft has the Windows accent. Google is native to the Web,” Gundotra said. “Google’s ecosystem is tied to the Internet.”
When asked about the difference between Google and Microsoft founders, Gundotra said, “Larry and Sergey are more interested in making the world a better place. Bill was more focused on winning business.”
Of course, Bill Gates’s winning has paid off for humanity, making him the most benevolent philanthropist in history. And, it is probably easier to make the world a better place when you can dominate a newly created market in less than ten years. Gates and Microsoft took a quite a bit longer grinding along the road to mega-billions.
In order to comply with a non-compete clause in his Microsoft contract, Gundotra spent a year working with Google.org on philanthropic endeavors, traveling in places such the Mekong Delta to work on early detection and response to epidemics and other health issues.
He got back in the game in June of this year, and his mantra is to bring more openness and transparency to the development process.
As part of that initiative he is holding events, called Campfire 1, for a small group of about 30 industry leading developers starting next month (the selection process will be sure to cause controversy). The first will be an informal event at Google’s headquarters, and it will be videotaped and blogged about for public consumption. Given that mandate, I wouldn’t expect any earth-shattering revelations. “Campfire 1 will allow us to push out innovation. Some will catch fire and others not,” Gundotra said.
Gundotra has also assembled a team of less than 100 developer “advocates.”
In contrast to how he handled developer events at his previous job, Gundotra is thinking small and nimble, which is in line with how software gets developed at Google. At Microsoft developer events were large and built around major code releases at specific dates. “The Google model is about releasing Web services and software with continuous improvements. You can’t pick a date,” Gundotra said. “Our culture is to innovate and run.”
“When competitors adopt the technology, it shows us how we are succeeding,” Gundotra said. The difference from the past is that companies competed by attracting developers to their proprietary platforms. For Google and others, the Web is the platform and no one owns it, he explained.
However, by setting standards (de facto mostly) based on its newfound openness and leading market position, Google is in a position to set the direction for the Web, and not everyone views that as a benefit to society. “Google’s job is to earn the respect of the community by proving what we say,” Gundotra said. “You will see an increased level of transparency and more predictability. In the next year you will be surprised at the level of investment and what we give away.” We’ll be watching.