Apple considered Linux for the iPhone

What would the iPhone have looked like if it ran Linux? We might have known first-hand.

Wired has the scoop on what could have been the sexiest Linux device of all time: Apple's iPhone.

Given Linux's momentum in embedded devices, Linux actually makes a lot of sense as an operating platform for the iPhone. I was involved in building the first Linux-based smartphone, the Sharp Zaurus, and Linux has only expanded in embedded devices since then.

But Wired makes a good (and very funny) suggestion as to how Not-Invented-Here-Jobs must have reacted to the idea of Linux:

In fact, I like to imagine the scene: Fadell mentions the "L" word. Jobs' eye twitches, the flinch almost imperceptible. He motions Fadell to continue and, a few moments later, stands up casually, apparently to stretch his legs. Then, suddenly, a folding chair is in Jobs' hands, swinging wildly towards Fadell's corner of the room. Jobs smashes the entire presentation - hardware prototypes and all - and screams at Fadell to "Get the **** out. Get out now!"

Classic, and quite possibly true.

Just as Apple used BSD software at the heart of its OS X operating system, it could easily have used Linux. The difference, of course, is that while Linux would have provided the technical quality Apple sought, its licensing would have been a non-starter. With Linux (and its GPL license), Apple would have had to make its modifications/derivative works open source, which the liberal BSD license does not require.

I doubt the conversation ever would have moved beyond that point. Apple does contribute to various open-source communities, but the core "secret sauce" for one of its biggest products ever? Not going to happen.

Tech Culture
About the author

    Matt Asay is chief operating officer at Canonical, the company behind the Ubuntu Linux operating system. Prior to Canonical, Matt was general manager of the Americas division and vice president of business development at Alfresco, an open-source applications company. Matt brings a decade of in-the-trenches open-source business and legal experience to The Open Road, with an emphasis on emerging open-source business strategies and opportunities. He is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CNET. You can follow Matt on Twitter @mjasay.


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