Google quietly announced last week that its cloud will run nothing but open source software.
This is a big deal, but let’s first admit why Google did it.
As I have written many times, Google has a big cost advantage when it comes to delivering Internet resources.
It’s like America’s nuclear advantage during the Cold War. Anyone who sought to compete with America in terms like throw-weight would bankrupt themselves. President Reagan encouraged this competition and the Soviet Union bankrupted itself.
So as Google enters the cloud computing wars with outfits like Amazon and Salesforce.com, it is to its advantage that there be no proprietary software advantage. On a level playing field it dominates. They’re the New York Yankees without a salary cap.
Openness, represented by open source and Internet standards, are all to Google’s advantage. This is why opponents of open standards, like Scott Cleland, go to such rhetorical lengths to claim that open standards are, in fact, proprietary. If open standards are proprietary you can set closed standards without harm to the market.
But open standards set terms of competition that advantage the low-cost producer of bits and processing. The question for policymakers, both public and private, is what the terms of competition will be, not who wins.
Cleland and other Bell apologists want their clients to win. Thus they support regulation based on scarcity, under which the winner is the outfit that can hire the most apologists. I own no Google stock, and I make no money from Google. Never have. Probably never will. (If I do I’ll let you know.)
We should set terms of competition that advantage consumers, not particular producers, and that reward plenty rather than scarcity. By that standard Google’s dominance is a fair one, fairly obtained, and so long as it’s not abused it’s a good thing.
In making its cloud open source, Google shows it understands this.