Posted on Fr 14 Oktober 2011

A Big Loss

Google announced today that they'll be shutting down Google Code Search in January. I am quite sure that this would be a massive loss for the Free Software community. The ability to learn from other people's code is a key idea of Free Software. There's simply no better way to do that than with a source code search engine. The day Google Code Search will be shut down will be a sad day for the Free Software community.

Of course, there are a couple of alternatives around, but they all have one thing in common: they, uh, don't even remotely compare to the completeness, performance and simplicity of the Google Code Search interface, and have serious usability issues. (For example: is really really slow, and splits up identifiers you search for at underscores, which kinda makes it useless for looking for almost any kind of code.)

I think it must be of genuine interest to the Free Software community to have a capable replacement for Google Code Search, for the day it is turned off. In fact, it probably should be something the various foundations which promote Free Software should be looking into, like the FSF or the Linux Foundation. There are very few better ways to get Free Software into the heads and minds of engineers than by examples -- examples consisting of real life code they can find with a source code search engine. I believe a source code search engine is probably among the best vehicles to promote Free Software towards engineers. In particular if it itself was Free Software (in contrast to Google Code Search).

Ideally, all software available on web sites like SourceForge, Freshmeat, or github should be indexed. But there's also a chance for distributions here: indexing the sources of all packages a distribution like Debian or Fedora include would be a great tool for developers. In fact, a distribution offering this functionality might benefit from such functionality, as it attracts developer interest in the distribution.

It's sad that Google Code Search will be gone soon. But maybe there's something positive in the bad news here, and a chance to create something better, more comprehensive, that is free, and promotes our ideals better than Google ever could. Maybe there's a chance here for the Open Source foundations, for the distributions and for the communities to create a better replacement!

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