On the iPhone SDK and Open Source Ideals

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When IT Business Edge's Kachina Dunn sent me this story with the comment, "Someone's mad at Apple," my thoughts went immediately to the lawsuit the company has filed against Florida startup Psystar for selling Mac clones. I thought a customer who had purchased a Psystar machine was lashing out at Steve Jobs and company because they are asking for a recall of the offending PCs.


I was wrong. As it turns out, TechCrunchIT blogger Nik Cubrilovic is the one who's upset, and his problem is not at all related to Psystar. Cubrilovic thinks it's ironic that Apple has built many of its proprietary products on an open source base but has, in effect, created what he calls a "walled garden" around them rather than opening them to the development community. He points out that the licensing, security and DRM around the new iPhone SDK is enough to "make the Microsoft Active Desktop team blush." He says:

Apple has a very strong following in the open source community, and I can no longer understand it nor justify my own support. They built OS X on FreeBSD ... they built Safari on KHTML, and are now using libraries such as SproutCore in MobileMe. They have taken open source and everything it built and leveraged it to get to market faster - yet they have now, with iTunes and the new SDK, built a layer on top of it that excludes others.

Cubrilovic urges those who care about openness and user freedom to boycott the iPhone and wait for a more open development platform -- perhaps Google's Android.


Some of Cubrilovic's readers give him props for "cutting through the crap" and "saying what so many have been thinking." Others, however, think he's being too harsh. I tend to agree with the latter. From what I understand, a significant portion of the iPhone OS comes from the Mac OS. That, by Cubrilovic's own admission, is based on BSD.


According to BSDLicense.com


The only requirements of the BSD license are preservation of copyright and a standard disclaimer of liability. Due to its minimal license, BSD software can be freely modified and used in proprietary or commercial software.

Apple can do whatever it wants with the modifications made to BSD for the Mac OS X and the iPhone OS. If the company had opted instead to start with a Linux variant released under the GNU GPL, that would be a different conversation. But it didn't.