How open source changed Google - and how Google changed open source

LXF: What do you think has been Google's biggest contribution to open source?

CDB: I think that the three biggest projects we've released are Android, Chromium and Go. If you asked me ten years from now which one I'm proudest of, I'm going to have a hard time answering, because Android has had incredible impact.

LXF: There's Summer of Code as well!

CDB: Well, Summer of Code is a very personal thing that's affected thousands of people. Android and Chromium have affected millions, or even a billion people. But from my nerd heart, my programmer's soul, I look at things like Summer of Code; and I look at things like Go; and I look at things like even GCI, our High School programme. I think these things are what makes open source persist in ways that even Android and Chromium do and don't. Chromium and Android are market forces at this point.

LXF: They are the proof that open source is legitimate?

CDB: They're fundamental. Beyond legitimacy. There have always been people over the last 20 years who've said open source is a cancer, or not legitimate, or the enemy. They say things like this and that always sort of misses the point for me, because open source is everywhere, right. And if we want it to continue to be everywhere and continue to help computer science move forward, we have to continue making it and keep it fundamental. The way we do that is through languages and through platforms like Android. By improving established open platforms like the web through things like Chromium.

You have to realise that before Chrome launched, people were still launching browsers where one tab could bring down the whole OS. That's really hard to do now. That's considered silly. And where JavaScript performance didn't really matter. We were able to change that with Chrome in a way that users obviously found useful. But it also forced people who are working off of WebKit and Gecko to take another look at performance and security.

If we hadn't done that, the web would be in a much worse state right now because there's a lot of malware around the web; there are a lot of people looking to trick you on the web. But because of Chromium, we focussed on this stuff early enough that it saved - in my mind - what the web could be.

Can you imagine if you didn't have the malware protection and the process isolation of Chrome, that Chrome brought to other browsers? Can you imagine surfing the web the way it is right now? It's pretty grim. There's a lot of malware. You end up basically funnelling people into fewer and fewer sites, and therefore fewer and fewer viewpoints and all the rest.

LXF: Do you think Google would have existed without open source or without Linux?

CDB: Probably. But I don't think the web would exist without open source and Linux. So there would have been no Google. It would have been something different, but without open source driving the internet there would have been no internet for Google to crawl, much less to run ads against, and much less to enforce our ideas around Android and Chromium. I think they're one and the same.

LXF: Of Summer of Code's 1,200 students and 60 countries, 271 students have been/ are in India. Do you think the next ten years is going to see a shift in where and how technical innovation originates?

CDB: I hope so. Every year that goes by we see more people from outside of the US take part. The US still has a healthy proportion - 250 or something - but it's amazing to see where people pop up - like Sri Lanka. Even during the civil war we still had Tamil and other Sri Lankan students taking part in the Summer of Code; it's like, how did it transcend borders in that way in that country? And so, Sri Lanka has always been really interesting to us in ways that even India and China are not.