On the iPhone SDK and Open Source Ideals

Lora Bentley

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.

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Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Jul 22, 2008 11:09 AM allan hardy allan hardy  says:
I posted most of this at the original site as well, but wanted to also address your conclusion above. The question being raised, the issue of concern is one about the basic feeling towards reciprocity, the need for an open source user to give back in some way, to compensate in a sense for their advantages open source provided.Apparently Apple has not violated any license terms, done anything illegal, as you cited. The argument is, as I see it, placed more one more of ethics then law. I also suspect it is one that has been debated and discussed in many places in the past, though Ive not done the research. The BSD license and its brethren of academic origin allow for forking and divergent and proprietary paths. A key driver of the development of the GPL license oh those many years ago, was to get come control over the forking, divergent and especially the proprietary spin offs by forcing reciprocity in the license.It seems to me that the give backs, the idea of reciprocity, has an aspect that is sort of a positive feedback that will help sustain and grow a market. I wonder if Open Source as a market place would not be where it is today if everyone had been as mercurial and one-way in its use as Apple? With some form of participation in open source Apple could be seen as standing on the shoulders of those that came before. As it is, and if continued, they run the risk of being seen as climbing on the backs of the open source community.Do the contributors of non-GPL open source care that people make money from their work or that there is no give back by the users? Apparently not or they would have chosen such a license. But there does seem to be a limit where people start seeing this as excessive or improper use. A movement from use, to misuse, or even possibly abuse.So by saying you think the call for push back on Apple is over the top, your I guess just saying you dont think they have hit that threshold. That there is no ethical or moral argument for them to give back, via code, or some other way, to the open source market or commons? Reply

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