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Google pleads for openness

For all Google's missteps vis-a-vis open source, the company's dependence on and promotion of open technology is clear.

Despite occasional criticism that Google doesn't commensurately contribute back to open-source software, hordes user data, and otherwise exercises too much control over the Web, it is also a refreshingly open company. Google has long declared the virtues of open data, open source, and open standards.

Writing in the International Herald Tribune, Google's Nelson Mattos, vice president of engineering for Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, reiterates this message with an impassioned plea for open technology:

Open innovation is better than closed. Open technology - open in the sense that the technology or knowledge is available to the general public for use - encourages new ideas, competition, efficiency, and innovation.

It can be messy, but its inclusiveness means that the barriers of entry are low, cost savings occur across the board, and the best ideas and practices will rise to the top, allowing companies to grow, become profitable, and benefit society as a whole....At Google we believe in openness because it's at the heart of the Web's success.

Microsoft won by tightly bundling its products - legally and, at times, illegally - and closing out competitors through proprietary file formats and closed APIs. Google, on the other hand, is winning through a directly opposite strategy. The former strategy worked well on the desktop; the latter strategy seems well-tuned for the Web.

Could it be that the only effective way to compete on the Web is through openness? If so, will Microsoft be able to adapt to this new reality or will it simply stick to its old script, monetizing the world inside the firewall but becoming increasingly irrelevant outside the firewall on the Web?

Only Microsoft can say, but it's fast approaching a decision that will challenge the foundations of how it has competed for decades. The cynic in me believes that old dogs don't learn new tricks. The optimist? That anyone, any company, can change, provided that it can find the will to do so.

Recent decisions around open source suggest that Microsoft may have a growing will to change. Time will tell if the old guard kills change in the womb.