Darwin Source Code Less Than Open

In Just for Fun, Linus Torvalds’ recent memoir of the early days of Linux, Torvalds recounts meeting Steve Jobs and Apple technical chief Avie Tevanian.

“Basically, Jobs started off by telling me that on the desktop there were just two players, Microsoft and Apple, and that he thought the best thing I could do for Linux was to get in bed with Apple and try to get the open source people behind Mac OS X,” Torvalds writes.

“Jobs made a big point of the fact that Mach’s low-level kernel is open source. He sort of played down the flaw in the setup: Who cares if the basic operating system . . . is open source if you then have the Mac layer on top, which is not open source?”

Well, no one says the Mac layer has to be open, but on the other hand, if OS X is built on a free Unix, does Apple have an obligation to return something substantial to the open source community?

Legally, no, and let’s face it – the goals of Apple and the Linux folks are mutually exclusive. Apple says, “We have the neat stuff. Come buy it from us.” Linux says “You can build the neat stuff yourself. Let us help.”

However, you can argue that there’s a moral obligation on Apple’s part. Mach and Unix are why OS X is so stable, so Apple is profiting from open source software.

That’s okay; after all, there are a number of companies profiting (or attempting to profit) from the sale of Linux. However, they don’t keep big chunks of their code under lock and key.

And Apple? Apple provides the plumbing for OS X in the form of Darwin, which is released under the company’s own version of an open source license.

However, Darwin is flawed as open source. A recent posting on penguinppc.org points out, “Apple does not fully release the Darwin source into the public source. Key drivers are left out, and some workarounds for chip bugs are pulled before the public versions are made available.”

The point? Penguinppc.org concludes, “This keeps Linux developers from using the Darwin source as a reference.”

If true, this strikes me as a shot directly at the open source folks. You can make a pretty good case for keeping the “Mac part” of OS X private: what case can you make for taking from open source and then not providing the bare minimum needed to get open source running on your hardware?

Apple is not likely to listen to such arguments, anymore than it is likely to see the foolishness of suppressing the user groups that distributed older versions of its software, but it makes the company’s continuing claim to somehow being hipper, better than the rest (read: Wintel) nothing more than advertising.

Keywords: #darwin #opensource #macosx

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