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Why Google open-sources code: 'Fuzzy feelings'

Open source offers a number of benefits, the search giant suggests, not the least being "warm fuzzy feelings." There is good value in making employees feel good.

Update at 7:45 a.m. PST January 23: Jon Williams' title has been clarified.

Google's desktop team has put together a short list of the reasons that Google open-sources software. The reasons may surprise you:

  • Source code can be a valuable learning tool. The gadgets not only show you how to develop Desktop gadgets (and) integrate with Google APIs, but also provide other tidbits of knowledge such as how to calculate phases of the moon or StarDates.
  • The images and graphics are also open-sourced....We hope people can take advantage of our graphic designers' talents.
  • We get warm fuzzy feelings by simply supporting the cause. It fosters a spirit of openness and collaboration between the team and developer community.

That last one probably sounds the least important, from a business perspective, but it may well be the most important of all. Why? Because as Jon Williams (who is now NBC iVillage's CTO but was Kaplan Test's CTO when he made this comment) suggests, open source is an exceptional recruiting and retention tool for top employees, something every company needs in the recession.

Sure, there is a wide range of benefits that open source brings a vendor and its customers, including lower prices, greater flexibility, enhanced transparency, and efficiency, and so on. But never underestimate the value of making employees feel like they're part of something bigger than money.