January of 2011 has brought some big shakeups at the executive management level of large technology companies, including the news of Steve Jobs’ leave of absence from Apple, and, yesterday, the news that Google CEO Eric Schmidt will pass the reigns to co-founder Larry Page as he moves on to an executive chairman slot. There are some questions about whether Page is the right leader for Google at this juncture, but many people are missing two important points about Page: 1) he has been CEO of Google before; and 2) he is a big part of Google’s long-standing friendliness toward open source.
Page was CEO of Google for three years, from 1998 until 2001, when Schmidt replaced him. As Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols notes, Google’s Page Rank is named after Larry Page, and Vaughan-Nichols also points out:
"If anything I expect to see even more open-source software flowing from Google. I still don’t expect any real changes coming from Google when it comes to Linux and open source, but I’m certain I can look forward to Google continuing to be, by some ways of looking at it, the biggest open-source company of all."
Google does qualify as the biggest open source company of all, and has consistently employed open source experts such as Chris DiBona, who serves as Open Source Program Manager. More than that, Google has released tons of open source code into the wild, sponsors Google Summer of Code, runs its own search engine on Linux, and generally gives open source much more of a fair shake than many companies focused on proprietary technology do.
The next couple of years will be critical for Google’s overall open source-focused strategy. Both Chrome OS and Android are based on Linux, and it’s possible that Google could have two hit operating systems in the fast-growing mobile space, where these Linux-based offerings don’t depend on conquering Microsoft-controlled desktop computers.
Larry Page’s involvement with Google’s open source focus goes back to the company’s early roots at Stanford. It’s understandable that some are questioning whether he is the right person to lead Google, especially after Yahoo shareholders screamed bloody murder when founder Jerry Yang reappeared as CEO and rebuffed a lucrative buyout offer from Microsoft. Sometimes, a mature technology business can be very different from the one a founder shaped.
In Larry Page’s case, he will be working alongside Eric Schmidt, who has a proven business record going back to his years at Sun Microsystems, and Page is a very open source-friendly person. In all likelihood, he will help keep key initiatives from Google open–right when they need to be.
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