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Apple's Christmas gifts to open source

It's popular (and wrong) to suggest Apple is a net consumer of open source; that it doesn't give more than it takes. Here are a few things Apple gives to open source.

Apple gets a lot of grief for being a net pillager of open source. The company has adopted open-source software into critically important products, yet gives little in return (so the story goes). And yet the Mac gets a lot of love from the open-source crowd. Why? What has Apple done to deserve it?

Roughly Drafted offers a range of reasons, but here are a few that I find particularly salient, starting with the importance of Apple's patent portfolio:

Most open source-centric developers only have a smattering of patents, but companies that back open source, such as Apple, Google, and IBM, have huge portfolios of thousands of patents covering a broad range of technologies. That makes Apple an unassailable ally of open source development and lends corporate legitimacy to the very distributed projects Microsoft is working to undermine with its fear-based anti-marketing....

The reason for Apple's natural alignment behind open source isn't due to a halo of righteousness, but because the company is contending as a minority player in several markets dominated by Microsoft and the proprietary technologies it has established as de facto standards. Apple's position is identical to Linux, BSD, and other open source projects, giving it strong reasons to intercede on the behalf of victims of patent terrorism.

Indeed. Apple is but one of several companies that fits this description (IBM, Oracle, HP, and others, including Novell, if it would stop aiding and abetting), but it's a critical one, both because of the power of its brand and because of its corporate rise among consumers.

In fact, it is this class of customer that makes Apple's interests align so well with open source:

Of course, Apple's interests don't always align with every member of the open source community. However, the company's consumer-oriented focus regularly matches its strategies and interests with the needs of users rather than corporate managers, studios and labels who might want to dial up the prices and restrict the use of consumer media, and other anti-consumer interests.

Apple, in sum, has plenty of reasons to stand behind open source. Instead of looking at it as an open-source villain, we may well one day have reason to refer to it as the new open-source friendly sheriff in town.

Read the rest of the article for more. Apple is open source's friend.