Dueling Bloggers: On Apple and Open Source

Lora Bentley

O'Reilly blogger Jeremiah Foster says Apple has a responsibility to be a better citizen of the broader open source community now that its OS X operating system (a FreeBSD derivative) has established itself among the UNIX varieties. Sadly, he opines, the company hasn't done so.


In Foster's opinion, Apple should be following the example of Sun Microsystems and releasing its operating system source code under the GNU General Public License or another open source license that requires companies to donate modifications to the open source community. The BSD license, of course, does not require sharing.


Foster points to the death of OpenDarwin and the fact that the company supports two different implementations of GTK as evidence that Apple is not as serious about its commitment to open source as it claims to be, which, he says, leads to loss of good will, and then to loss of users.


We think we understand his point, but we're not convinced that he's using the best facts or examples to support it. Iljitsch van Beijnum at Ars Technica certainly isn't, and the comment section following his own blog reveals that many of Foster's readers aren't either.


In his post, van Beijnum points out that many of Apple's products are built on open source software and that even though it is under no obligation to share modifications to that software under the BSD license, the company often does. The difference, he says, is that Apple shares only the commodity components of its products, while keeping the value-added elements proprietary.


van Beijnum says this demonstrates that Apple does understand open source and how to leverage it for the business. We're not experts, by any means, but we tend to agree.


The fact that the company doesn't leverage open source exactly the way others have or think it should doesn't mean Apple doesn't understand how, does it? Google has also been accused of bad open source citizenship in the past, but Google reps have indicated that the company releases code when it makes sense for Google. For other companies, it makes sense to open source everything all the time, but that's not the way Google -- or Apple -- chooses to do business.

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