Apple's free pass on open source

Why does Apple get to borrow from open source but give little back? Because it's shiny.

Some open-source backers, including myself, have noted in the past Apple's ironic "free pass" when it comes to sharing code.

Despite using copious amounts of open source, Apple remains the most proprietary company on the planet. You can hardly say the name "Apple" without signing an NDA.

And yet many in the open-source world love Apple. I am one of them. Some suggest that open-source development is better on the Mac, and I've offered reasons for this. However, TechCrunch is right to question the love affair with all-things-Apple:

[Apple] 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. For Apple, open source is great when it furthers their own goals, but not when using it with Apple software where it may further the goals of others.

My own explanation is that I use what works on the desktop. I don't care so much about desktop politics (and never have). File formats matter a great deal on the desktop, but the license on the application itself? Not nearly as much .

At any enterprise level (e.g., servers), it's a different story.

But that's likely just self-justification. I love my Mac. Period. The bigger question, however, is why Apple gets a pass, while I and others slam Microsoft and, more particularly, Google for adopting open source without contributing commensurately back. For this, I have no answer, but it's a question that deserves to be asked again and again.

Google has started to contribute a lot of code . Perhaps with enough pressure, Apple will too? The company claims, "As the first major computer company to make Open Source development a key part of its ongoing software strategy, Apple remains committed to the Open Source development model." To an extent this is true, but where much is given, much is expected.

Apple does contribute open-source code back, but not commensurate with what it gets (i.e., an excellent foundation for its browser, operating system, etc.).

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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