Apple has contributed to the free software ecosystem in a number of ways
besides just releasing software. By basing its operating
system on NeXT, parts of the BSD operating system, and GNU software, Apple has demonstrated that a commercial operating system based on Free Software is a viable business model.
Free Software is adaptable to a variety of business models, you can even
sell Apache or the GIMP if you want to. Download it, burn it to CD, and
sell the CDs. You may not make a lot of money because everyone else can
do this too, but there is nothing stopping you legally.
The new PC-BSD distribution is similar in many ways to Apple’s OS X.
While Apple uses proprietary bits from NeXT along with Free Software,
PC-BSD uses FreeBSD 6. Apple has shown there is room for a variety of
UNIX-like platforms that serve a variety of users, PC-BSD is filling a
niche and further demonstrating the thriving nature of the free software
ecosystem. Perhaps there is a direct connection between PC-BSD and
Apple, perhaps certain Apple hackers have hacked a bit on the PC-BSD
code or fixed bugs in the common code base they share. But most of all,
Apple’s daring business model that recognized the superiority of UNIX
and Free Software showed that there is room for more than just Microsoft
in the computing world.