Google Offers Service to Host Open Source Software Projects

Saying it may have some scratch for the open source software itch, search giant Google chose the O’Reilly Open Source Developers Conference (OSCON) in Portland, Ore., this week to unveil a free service hosting open source software projects.

The service, Project Hosting, will give open source software developers a place on the Internet to track issues with their software more efficiently using Google’s search and infrastructure technology, Google Engineering Manager Greg Stein told a packed room at OSCON Thursday.

Stein — who said a regular, small team of Google developers came up with the service — stressed that Project Hosting was an early beta, but said it is squarely aimed at improving open source software development by making issue and bug tracking simpler.

“We wanted to get it in peoples’ hands and get feedback so we can shape it as we get informed,” Stein said. “We’re launching it very early because we want some feedback.”

Issue Tracking

Google’s Project Hosting, described in Stein’s presentation as a “complete re-think of issue tracking,” is based on Google’s rebuild of the Subversion software version control system with a storage system known as Big Table.

The service has an AJAX interface, and allows users to search issue reports and bug tracking with simpler queries, according to Stein, who explained Google dropped access controls and fine-grain permissions that did not belong with the bug and issue data.

Open source projects will also be able to store code with the free service, although it is not yet capable of downloads, Stein said.

No SourceForge Killer

Amid speculation of further enhancements to Google’s new service for the open source software community, some were predicting a searchable repository for open source projects that would challenge SourceForge, the largest and most established open source software repository.

“It was interesting to see the reactions of what is it that people think we can do, and what is it that they really want,” Stein said.

However, he went on to indicate Project Hosting is not meant to displace SourceForge, and in fact Google worked with SourceForge to reserve project names of the large repository’s 166,000 projects.

“We don’t want to go and take that away,” Stein said. “We don’t want to kill it. We wanted to add something unique and build on our strengths,” he added, referring to simplicity, scalability and robustness.

Google’s open source Project Hosting launch also coincided with SourceForge’s announcement of a revamped software map and new search functionality.

Drawing the License Line

While there is no approval process for Project Hosting projects, Google will monitor for legitimacy, and is limiting open source software projects to a choice of one of seven open source licenses: the General Public License (GPL), Apache, Mozilla, MIT, BSD, GPL2, or LGPL, with GPL version 3 to be added when it is released, Stein said.

“We’re taking an actual position and saying that we don’t want to encourage license proliferation,” he said, referring to the ongoing issue of many different open source licenses that overlap and sometimes push the boundaries of what is considered open source.

“In general, we don’t like people doing the dual-license thing,” Stein said.

Given that, Stein added there will be some open source projects that are not right for Google’s Project Hosting, and which will still be served by SourceForge, Tigris, or other repositories and services.

“We don’t need to take all the projects,” he said.

Thrown to the Coders

Open source developers immediately began registering projects and tinkering with Google’s Project Hosting, which has a Gmail look and feel, and offers tools for issue tracking, source code browsing, and project administration.

There were plenty of questions and issues, and some software developers sighed as Stein explained that the code running Google’s Project Hosting was not itself open source. He said that while the new service represents a significant contribution to open source, it is Google’s Summer of Code, which promotes new open source projects, that is the company’s biggest show of support for the community.

Despite some grumblings, there was an overall positive reaction among open source developers, many of whom indicated some competition in open source project hosting would benefit them.

Brian Behlendorf, a primary Apache Web server developer and current Chief Technology Officer of CollabNet, a Subversion sponsor, said he was pleased to see Google supporting Subversion with its new service. It would be difficult to have reservations about Project Hosting, he told LinuxInsider.

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