Google promises to open-source the code.
I call this a win for nonevil. Any sufficiently advanced damage control is indistinguishable from ethics.
And at that point your precious "don't be evil" guidance is worthless because at best you are so inconsequentially less evil than the run of the mill heartless corporation that you really haven't decreased the amount of evil being done in the world.
Exactly which part is evil?
1) Buying AppJet
2) Publicly announcing their intentions for the service
3) Listing to feedback
4) Changing their intentions for the service (on a weekend)
This is a serious question, btw. Obviously shutting down a service isn't evil on it's own - it's a net good for the world if no one care about it (saving electricity, giving people more fulfilling work etc).
Perhaps your argument is that they should have responded quicker. If that's the case then would it be possible for you to lay out your proposal for quicker responses?
We call it 'evil' (to some degree) when a big supermarket starts up on the edge of town, shuts down the small independent shops and offers you the choice of supermarket-butcher and supermarket-baker or nothing, don't we?
We call it 'evil' (to some degree) when governments or industry forcibly buy up houses and turf people out to build a railway or reservoir, and offer people the choice of whatever-the-government-wants-to-pay or nothing, yes?
Yes Google have turned it around very quickly, but in the context of the parent post "we like EtherPad let's use our massive amounts of cash to hire their developers and incidentally ruin their product but who cares" is not on the same level of goodness as "we like EtherPad let's use our massive amounts of cash to train our developers and make our product so good that people move over by choice".
Google has managed to stay significantly less evil than the standard for large companies. They're big enough now that, no matter what they do, people will accuse them of insidious things, but it's hard to argue that they don't represent an incremental step in the right direction. It's not obvious how much of this is self-determined and how much is the zeitgeist of the internet, but I'm not sure that's too important.
You could start with the fact that they bought Etherpad in the first place. In its heyday, a certain leviathan that comes to mind would have simply killed it by any means necessary. (And then stood gloating over its remains, cackling and pumping its fists in the air. And saying "it's just business" to anyone who had a problem. But I digress.)
Comparing how Google uses their power to how Apple uses theirs, or what Microsoft would do with the power they wish they still had, I'm glad Google have managed to preserve the evil-to-non-evil ratio that they have, even if it is far from zero. As Sarah Vowell once said, don't diss the lesser of two evils; less evil is a big deal!
Buying the competition in order to shut them down seems, well, evil.
Make no mistake, I'm glad that google is less evil than other corporations its size, but I don't delude myself into imagining that they fully, or even remotely, live up to their "don't be evil" mission.
Why is Google is significantly less evil? Because they pursue their interests in a way that is far more aligned with the public interest than any other corporation of their size ever (that I've observed). Making the internet faster. Digitizing all the world's books. Sure, it's all self-interested, but it's self-interested in a more enlightened way than we've ever seen in a large corporation. How can that not matter?
Do they still do evil things? Duh. This isn't binary.
I also disagree with you that their "Don't be evil" slogan is a weak one. It's just a slogan, but based on numerous things I've read, it does put some pressure on their decision makers to consider these things. Who else does that?
Actually, I disagree with pretty much everything you said. I don't accept your cynical slippery-slope argument at all, and you haven't provided any evidence for it.
Everyone else seems to have concluded that they purchased EtherPad to get their people, not (specifically, at least) to shut them down.
Do you disagree with that?
References? Google censors it's Chinese version - is that all you are referring to?
i suspect this is more a (cynical) definition of "advanced damage control" than a definition of "ethics" (in which case it's not a win for nonevil; it's evil being smart enough that you can no longer tell the difference).
Already quoted: http://simonwillison.net/2009/Dec/6/ethics/
A similar sentence could be constructed about altruism, though it might be hard to keep it as short.