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Apple's open source foray prompts squabbles

Apple hoped to tap into the excitement of the open source movement with its new server operating system, but the only commotion generated so far has been squabbling among open source advocates.

Apple hoped to tap into the excitement of the open source movement with its new server operating system, but the only commotion generated so far has been squabbling among open source advocates.

Apple announced last week that core parts of its new Mac OS X Server software would be released to the open source community, meaning that anyone would be allowed to download and modify the original programming instructions and use them for their own purposes.

Apple convinced Open Source Initiative cofounder Eric Raymond to give his blessing to the company's new Apple Public Source License (APSL). But within a few days, others weighed in with rebuttals.

Bruce Perens, Wichert Akkerman, and Ian Jackson--three other significant personalities in the open source world--quickly responded: "We regret to note that Eric Raymond, with the best of intentions, jumped a little too fast to embrace the [Apple license] in his enthusiasm to welcome Apple to our community. He placed the open source designation on a license that wasn't quite ready for that."

Among their objections, the trio said Apple's license would squelch open source redistribution of software if Apple went out of business, since the license requires that developers notify Apple of modifications.

Though the open source realm is noted for its emphasis on programming skills, law degrees also come in handy for navigating the licensing arrangements that result from big companies' efforts to integrate their proprietary software with open source strategies. Apple's license agreement is 3,238 words long. And, as the objections show, length is no defense.

For his part, Raymond has contested the trio's criticisms in a letter to Linux Weekly News, adding that the Open Source Initiative stands behind its endorsement of the Apple license and that Apple modified the license in response to OSI's concerns.

On Saturday, open source guru Richard Stallman leapt into the fray with a posting at Linux Today criticizing the Apple license.

Stallman said the license doesn't allow people to modify software for personal use without publishing the changes and requires people to notify Apple of the changes. In addition, he concurred with Perens that the license has a "termination clause" that could let Apple revoke a software license in the event of a patent infringement lawsuit.

In his trademark style, Stallman said Apple had only half-embraced the open source ideal saying the company planned "to appeal to business with the purely materialistic goal of faster development, while putting aside the deeper issues of freedom, community, cooperation, and what kind of society we want to live in."

The debaters are not intellectual lightweights.

Raymond is the author of Fetchmail and the open source manifesto "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" about writing Fetchmail. Raymond also is noted for posting the famed Halloween documents, leaked memos from Microsoft describing the open source threat to proprietary companies.

Perens cofounded the Open Source Initiative and is the author of the Open Source Definition. However, he and Raymond parted ways in February because of philosophical differences that led Perens to resign from the Open Source Initiative board.

Stallman wrote the Emacs editor and is the founder of the GNU and the Free Software Foundation. He was a driving force to create a freely available version of Unix--the GNU "GNU's Not Unix" Project--and the lead author of the GNU "copyleft" General Public License, under which Linux was released.