When it comes to open source initiatives, Google has always been among the first to lend a hand -- be it financially or via code contributions. This summer at the O'Reilly Open Source Convention, the search giant even launched its own open source project hosting portal, and is reportedly cooperating with SourceForge.net, rather than attempting to draw projects away from the popular site.
However, Google also drew criticism at OSCON for a perceived failure to put its money where its mouth is, so to speak, by releasing more of its own code in addition to contributing to everyone else's projects. In response, company representatives explained that they release code when it's possible to do so without compromising trade secrets -- when it makes sense for them to do so.
Therefore, the company's recent decision to re-release the Tesseract optical character recognition project must make sense on some level, but at this point we're scratching our heads. The project sat dormant for nearly 10 years after HP pulled out of the OCR business. The Information Sciences Research Institute at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, asked Google to help with bug fixes last year, and after eliminating some of the critical ones, the search giant decided the technology was "stable enough" to release as open source.
If there are motives beyond altruism (and when are there not?), time will reveal them.