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Google gets serious about the Mac

In their free time, search giant's employees are doing some hugely interesting things with open source and their beloved Macs. But would Google and Apple ever merge efforts officially?

In the "20 percent time" that Google employees have to work on projects of personal interest, it turns out that an increasing number are spending time writing open-source projects for their beloved Macs.

Google has long had a fondness for the Mac, with upwards of 6,000 of its 10,000 20,000 current employees opting to use the Mac over Windows.

It is in the 20 percent employee development time, however, where this statistic becomes interesting. At Google, development time translates into products. The more Mac-friendly employees, the more Mac-related development. The more Mac-related development, the more Google-sponsored Mac-based open-source code.

As Google's Mac Developer Playground demonstrates, some of this code is quite interesting.

Here are a few of the best open-source Mac projects from Google:

  • AppMenuBoy: Easily add hierarchical menus in the dock of applications.
  • MacFuse: "Implements a mechanism that makes it possible to implement a fully functional file system in a user space program on Mac OS X...(that) opens up a whole new set of opportunities for Macintosh developers, who can now put intuitive and innovative interfaces around all kinds of information."
  • Statz: Ever want to update your status in Skype, Adium, etc. all at the same time, from one user interface? Well, here you go.
  • Vidnik: "Record video segments using your iSight camera, and upload them to YouTube." Makes the Mac-to-YouTube process even easier (if that was possible).

There's much more. You can always find stable projects ready for mass consumption like Google Desktop for the Mac and Notifier here, but much of the most intriguing code is housed on the Playground.

All of it open-source. All of it is available for developers to tinker with, improve, and distribute. This is a very different Google from the one I've been imagining for the past few years.

All of which has me thinking: what would a Google-plus-Apple combination look like? Both companies share a respect for design and aesthetics. Both companies focus on consumers. Importantly, both companies are also at the top of their game.

Could the two merge and create an even more powerful Goopple? Yes, though it is unlikely. I just can't imagine Steve Jobs sharing the stage with anyone.

So I'll continue to enjoy Google's open-source Mac projects and imagine a day when the best in desktop meets the best in Web. What a cool combination that would be.

UPDATE: I originally reported Google's total employees to be 10,000, as the company's own corporate "About Us" page notes. The number is actually closer to 20,000, as Google Finance details. Google Corporate, please talk with Google Finance and come to a compromise. :-)