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8/16/2006
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Are Apple's New Open Source Efforts Enough?

During the week of WWDC, Apple announced a handful of initiatives at revitalizing their open source development efforts. In particular, the company stated that Darwin on Intel would be released as open source (something the company had thus far refused to do), and also said that Apple would be putting up a hosting system for Mac open source projects. This follows on the fairly public breakdown between Ap

During the week of WWDC, Apple announced a handful of initiatives at revitalizing their open source development efforts. In particular, the company stated that Darwin on Intel would be released as open source (something the company had thus far refused to do), and also said that Apple would be putting up a hosting system for Mac open source projects. This follows on the fairly public breakdown between Apple and some parts of the Mac open source community, and it's probably safe to assume that these announcements represent some kind of outreach to that community. But are these efforts enough to salve the wounds, and bring those developers back to the fold?To find out, I asked Rob Braun what he thought about the new initiatives. Here's what he wrote back:

There are three separate issues that I can see:

- xnu x86 source release - macosforge announcement - Apache licensing of software

For the xnu x86 source release, clearly access to source is better for the community than not having access, so this is good. However, people have been asking about the source for 8 months now, and Apple has not said anything. If Apple were truly interested in community participation, it would not have been that difficult to have told the community that source will be unavailable until WWDC. To me, the handling of the xnu x86 source release just reinforces the idea that open source at Apple is a marketing gimmick.

For the macosforge announcement, it's about time. Apple has historically not been receptive to community participation with their open source projects, something they try to deny. Even WebKit, Apple's flagship open source product of the moment, was hosted at OpenDarwin and was supposedly a community project. However, the source has always been at Apple with Apple managers controlling who has access and who doesn't. It has never been and was never intended to be a community effort. Given this, Apple should have provided their own hosting and not tried to play the game of being open but not. Macosforge will allow them to do that. They can restrict access, ensure click through licensing agreements, censor bug reports, and hide code prior to marketing announcements, all without strong-arming the supposedly independent and open community to these things for them. I believe macosforge is a good thing for the community because of this. It will reduce tensions with the community.

For the Apache licensing of various projects, this is a very good thing. It was a shame Apple couldn't have worked with their community and told them this was something they were working towards, and that it had to wait for an Apple controlled hosting facility before it could happen.

Overall, my impression is the status quo has been maintained. The secrecy leading up to these announcements reinforces the belief that open source is simply a marketing exercise for Apple. Communication is key to community participation, and is something that Apple is willing to sell for a little glitz.

I'm sure that other people have their own takes on the quality and utility of the initiatives, but if the question is "will this be enough to bring the jaded developers back?" then the answer appears to be "no, not yet."

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