Search giant Google has launched a new project hosting service for open source software. Designed to leverage the robust Subversion version control system, the new service provides repository hosting and support for issue tracking. With extremely limited functionality and plenty of rough edges, the nascent open source project hosting service is noticeably inferior to most other Google betaware.
Despite the deficiencies, the project has potential, and it will probably become more useful as it continues to evolve. The main page bears the common open source meme "Release early, release often," a principle that Google seems to have embraced with great enthusiasm given the raw status of the system.
After creating a test project and experimenting with most of the features, I have concluded that the service is far from ready for production use. With the exception of the issue tracking featurewhich has a very nifty (albeit buggy) filtering list view widget, the interface is plagued with an uncharacteristic lack of useful ajaxflourishes.
The project search feature isn't particularly useful yet, though I imagine that it will improve considerably as support for additional project metadata expands. The issue tracking search feature is much better, but like most of the rest of the system, it still falls short of functionality offered by alternative software development project management solutions. The web-based repository view is extremely simplistic, and it doesn't seem to provide a means of viewing earlier revisions. Source code display is also very simple, and syntax highlighting is not yet supported.
With only a fraction of the features available in competing technologies, gaining dominance in the open source project hosting field will present Google with an uphill battle. Sourceforge, a widely used open source project hosting service operated by VA Software subsidiary OSTG, is widely recognized as a leader in the open source hosting niche. With over 100,000 registered projects and over 1 million registered users, Sourceforge has a tremendous following and broad community recognition. Another potential barrier to adoption of Google's new service is rapidly growing interest in self-hosting within the open source software development community. The Trac project management system provides developers with a well-integrated, end-to-end project management solution built on Subversion that is easy to deploy and maintain. Trac has many useful and unique features like a timeline display, support for RSS, a built-in wiki, and a robust issue tracking system, all of which make it highly appealing.
Can Google succeed in such a well-covered space? Google has always been able to leverage the power and convenience of its more popular offerings to bolster the usefulness and appeal of its newer and less-capable services.
Right now, Google's new source code hosting service is an island, but properly integrated with GMail, Google Groups, Google Talk, and other relevant services (I can already imagine Google Checkout being used in an elaborate payment system for open source code bounties), the new hosting offering could become a force to be reckoned with. At the present time however, the system still has a very long way to go.