Google launches alternative to SourceForge

Google has begun testing a new service for hosting open-source projects that leverages its famed search engine to help developers find interesting software to which they can contribute.

The firm said last week that the project hosting site, available in beta now at http://code.google.com/hosting, also offers its trademarked minimalist user interface, as well as a powerful back-end database to speed up access and lower downtime.

"We wanted to bring a Googley-style layout," said Greg Stein, a technical lead at Google. "Most open-source developers don't need the workflow features that are available [in other sites] today."

During the announcement, made at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention, Stein downplayed competition with existing sites for open-source developers, especially SourceForge.Net.

"SourceForge and Tigris are doing a really good job," he said. "We don't need to take all of the projects."

SourceForge has long been the standard for open-source developers, with more than 166,000 projects.

"SourceForge is the place to go," said Jeff Wartes, a software engineer for Seattle-based Whitepages.com Inc. But Wartes said he is "intrigued" by Google's offering, noting that SourceForge's search function is "not that great" and the site has sometimes been slow to add the latest features desired by developers.

Jay Seirmarco, SourceForge.net's general manager, said the site is in the midst of a long-term upgrade that will fix many of the issues users have complained about. He also welcomed Google's move.

"What's good for the open-source community is good for SourceForge," he said.

To underline that, Google's Stein said the two firms are working together to create a common database of open-source project names, to avoid duplication and confusion.

To help developers more efficiently search for worthwhile projects, Google will use its search algorithms to rank projects by the number of participants and the amount of recent activity. Idle projects will be slowly culled from Google's main database. Fake projects put up, according to Stein, by those looking for a "free place to store their MP3s" or hackers looking to gather user passwords will be filtered and shut down.

"We're all open-source developers, so we know what features we need," Stein said.

Google's site won't have -- at least for now -- the ability to search actual source code. Nor will it offer an e-mail system to facilitate communication between programmers.

Google is "moving into the enterprise and this is another key offering," said John Andrews, president of Evans Data, a research firm focused on software development. "Overall, it makes sense, complements a number of their other search and segmentation strategies and could facilitate a growing need -- the effective management of open source outside and inside the firewall."

Google's move follows a similar announcement in June by Linux vendor Red Hat.

While Google is not an open-source company like Red Hat, it is considered a strong supporter of open-source, recommending the use of the Mozilla Firefox Web browser and using the MySQL database in-house.

Google has also aggressively pushed out its APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) to enable developers to create "mash ups," or hybrid Web applications, that draw upon services such as Google Maps.

Stein joked that before settling on the repository as a way for Google to "give back" to the community of open-source developers, it considered starting either a "dating service for geeks" or a "personal training service, to help programmers lose the weight from all of the Mountain Dew they're drinking."

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