Apple is failing in Open Source and Free Software. It fails to understand the movement, its principles, and how to leverage it to make money. This would not be such an issue if Apple had not based their operating system OS X on Free Software in the form of NeXT/FreeBSD. Since OS X has taken its place amongst the other flavors of UNIX it is expected to behave as a responsible citizen in this community. Apple has failed to do so and its behavior is getting worse resulting in loss of goodwill from the community. If you think loss of goodwill is negligible, as apparently Apple does, you should consider its implications, many of which are already being realized in the ecosystem that Apple lives in. Not least of these is security and that is no trivial issue. Apple’s reputation has already been damaged by the Month of Apple Bugs and in its attempt to whitewash security issues that were published last summer. Fixing these problems was what the last, huge, processor-eating “security update” was all about. Now security researchers are wary of Apple and zero-day exploits may be published before fixes are ready, potentially exposing Apple’s customers to remote exploits and loss of data.
Apple needs to see Open Source as a way to strengthen their business. Many technology companies have figured out how to incorporate tools and licenses to strengthen their connection to their customers. Look at SUN and Adobe for example, both are moving in the opposite direction from Apple. SUN has released Java as GPL licensed, something that might have been unthinkable back in the days when Microsoft was trying to undermine Java’s widespread use. Adobe has opened up a good deal of their tools which chiefly appeal to so-called creatives who often use the Apple platform. Now they have incentive to switch to linux with all of the new development tools and support Adobe has thrown their way. Adobe is even developing new tools out in the open with developer interaction, look at http://labs.adobe.com/ for example. Note the presence of Wikis and creative commons licensed documents. Mac doesn’t even use Creative Commons licenses for its support forums.
Apple talks the talk, here is a quote from their Open Source web page: “Apple believes that using Open Source methodology makes Mac OS X a more robust, secure operating system, as its core components have been subjected to the crucible of peer review for decades. Any problems found with this software can be immediately identified and fixed by Apple and the Open Source community.” This is exactly what the community says Apple is not doing.
Furthermore, a cursory investigation of various projects leads to lots of unmaintained web pages and software that could have benefited from Apple’s deeper involvement. I am thinking of two separate implementations of Gtk and Open Darwin. Merely the fact that Open Darwin was allowed to wither on the vine is direct evidence that Apple says one thing about Open Source but does completely another.
There is a cost for not being a good Open Source citizen and that cost is loss of goodwill in the community. That loss is more expensive in the long run than Apple realizes.