Tuesday, September 08, 2009

[Conf] Zurich Open Source Jam

On August 13th, more than 50 other people, interested in open source software, attended the 8th Google Open Source Jam in Zurich, which is an informal (bar-camp like) meet-up at Zurich office (also available in other parts of the world) and a perfect opportunity to meet other open source developers as well as Google engineers in a relaxed atmosphere. As it is open to everyone, people held several lightning talks on a great variety of topics:
  • "G-WAN", Pierre Gauthier
  • "Dynamics of Open Source code", Markus Geipel
  • "Involving students in Open Source", Lukas Lang
  • "Open Source in Africa", Michel Pauli
  • "BTstack", Matthias Ringwald
  • "Free Software & basic income", Thomas Koch
  • "NxOS, an OS platform for Lego", David Anderson
  • "Open Source in the Humanities", Tara Andrews
My talk was related to open source student projects, accomplished within the scope of the course "Advance Software Engineering", held at QSE. Four projects were completed successfully in the last two years and got integrated to the codebase:
Similar to Summer of Code, these students have been mentored by experienced open source committers from the Apache Software Foundation and the Codehaus. Developers and students, participating in open source projects themselves, commented a lot on this topic: "I wish, I had something similar when I was a studying", said a Google engineer.

Afterwards, we continued to have interesting discussions. After some time I found myself in an exciting discussion on software engineering at Google. First off, I'd like to mention that employees never make clear statements concerning their work as they are bound to confidentiality. Even though no specific software development process was confirmed, one could identify tendencies:

Don't repeat yourself (DRY). Code and software reuse as a basic principle. The Google Code repository was created as a collaborative platform to manage, document and review free/libre open source software (FLOSS) projects. Indeed, employees spend up to 20% of their time contributing to open source projects.

Don't reinvent the wheel. "At Google we don't reinvent the wheel, we vaporize our own rubber", told me one of the engineers (they use heaps of metaphors like this) meaning that a vast majority of the software in production use is built on top of parts or complete open source libraries. Aside from releasing software like the Web Toolkit, Android, Chromium, etc. back into open source, Google contributes to a diversity of FLOSS projects (e.g. Linux kernel, Apache projects, MySQL, Mozilla Firefox) [1]. However, they keep implementations of key technologies a secret claiming that for instance their webserver, apparently a Tomcat re-write, was "to specific to benefit from" or just don't publish it for competitive reasons [1]. The same goes for Google File System (GFS), BigTable and MapReduce. In a nutshell, scientific publishing [2] of these core technologies at least led to great open source implementations (e.g. Apache Hadoop) which are open to everyone.

[1] A look inside Google's open source kitchen, http://www.builderau.com.au/strategy/architecture/soa/A-look-inside-Google-s-open-source-kitchen/0,339028264,339272690,00.htm
[2] Google Publications, http://research.google.com/pubs/papers.html

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