If Yahoo Implodes, What's the Effect on Open Source?

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One of the interesting aspects of Microsoft's long-running pursuit of Yahoo has been the potential knock-on effects for open source. Although the company doesn't make much of the fact, it uses a lot of free software, and has helped open source projects by employing some of the top hackers.

The prospect of Microsoft controlling that activity was worrying enough, but in the light of its apparent failure to convince Yahoo to be acquired, here's another troubling thought:

Today’s news is that three more of Yahoo’s best executives are leaving the company: Qi Lu, Brad Garlinghouse and Vish Makhijani. That follows the departure of two executive vice presidents, Jeff Weiner and Usama Fayyad.

All this leaves particular disarray in the half of Yahoo that builds services for users. Mr. Weiner headed that area. Two of its key groups are search, run by Mr. Makhijani, and e-mail and other communications products, run by Mr. Garlinghouse.

More relevantly for open source, Jeremy Zawodny, one of the top MySQL experts, and the leading open source evangelist within Yahoo, has also left.

What this means is that the situation for hackers at Yahoo is getting worse, which is likely to lead to more haemorrhaging of coding talent, making things yet worse, which is likely to lead to – well, you get the picture: Yahoo might simply bleed metaphorically to death.

Of course, good programmers will find jobs elsewhere, so it's probably not a huge problem as far as the individuals are concerned, but I wonder whether there might be a negative effect on open source at a higher level, in terms of supporting existing or new open source projects. Losing a major supporter of free software – albeit one that hasn't shouted about it from the rooftops – can't be good for the open source ecosystem. Whether Yahoo finally cracks and agrees to be bought, or simply cracks up, it's looking as if Microsoft will come out smiling.