Open source lies at the heart of Google – it runs a modified form of Linux on its vast server farms, and uses many other free software programs in its operations. This makes giving back to the open source community not just the right thing to do but enlightened self-interest: the stronger free software becomes, the more Google can build upon it (cynics would say feed off it).
Google's contributions to open source take many different forms. It employs a number of the top hackers – people like Samba's Jeremy Allison and Python's Guido van Rossum – and it organises the Summer of Code scheme whereby young coders are paid to work on open source projects. That's also a double hit: it helps underfunded projects fill in the gaps – and lets Google scout out fresh coding talent.