Google pumps cash into university’s open source lab

Google's Summer of Code is drawing thousands of student proposals.

Google has propped up one of higher education’s leading open-source development programs with $1.9 million, including this month’s $300,000 gift, which will support the creation of free software for schools, hospitals, and government agencies nationwide.

The search giant on June 13 announced its latest gift to Oregon State University’s Open Source Lab, a program launched in 2003 that provides a hosting environment for developers of software and technologies made with an open-source license, which allows anyone to copy the source code and change it for free.

OSU’s Open Source Lab provides hosting for a range of well-known projects, including the BusyBox, CentOS, the Apache Software Foundation, and Eclipse.

The lab is powered by servers located across the country with more than six terabytes of storage, according to the university.

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“Google’s global leadership in the open source community is unquestioned,” OSU President Ed Ray, adding that the university has “benefited from Google’s generous corporate philanthropy that allows our Open Source Lab to move forward its mission of supporting, through technology, many under-served populations around the world, while also creating new industries and products at home.”

OSU students, staff, and faculty have helped develop and maintain Oregon’s K-12 online program and the state’s One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) initiative. Students who work in the university’s Open Source Lab helped develop an online tool known as TriSano, which allows health reports submitted by hospital workers to be reviewed and edited by colleagues with clearance to use the web-based system.

Josh Schonstal, a senior at OSU and a developer at the school’s Open Source Lab, said TriSano is an open-source program that could help health workers share critical information more freely, perhaps helping the Centers for Disease Control better manage outbreaks.

“Ideally we want as many hospitals as possible to use this software,” Schonstal said.

The Open Source Lab worked closely with an organization called CrisisCommons – created after the 2010 Haiti earthquake to connect volunteers across the world – to host and support CrisisCommons’ website, online training sessions, and wikis.

The university’s open-source experts also helped CrisisCommons document and distribute lessons learned during the massive volunteer effort in the months after the Haiti earthquake.

Google’s involvement with open-source projects in higher education has deepened in recent years. The company will provide funding for hundreds of college students participating in Google’s Summer of Code.

Students whose open-source ideas are accepted will work with a mentor throughout the summer as they get a feel for the world of software development and code writing.

Students who make their way into the company’s Summer of Code program will have their project pitches posted online.

There are thousands of open-source proposals listed on the official Google site. One, for example, will fix a bug found in the Mozilla internet browser. Fixing the bug could improve Gmail integration within the Mozilla platform.

Another proposal listed on Google’s Summer of Code site is from a student who has begun development on an open-source tool that would detect vulnerabilities in the internet’s newest protocol, known as IPv6. The protocol went live in early June after years of testing.

The $300,000 gift from Google is part of OSU’s The Campaign, the first organized fundraising effort in the university’s history. So far, the school has raised more than $800 million from contributions to The Campaign, according to OSU.

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