Friday, December 08, 2006

Apple, Linux Operating System, and others.

Something occured to me the other day, and that was how long will it be before Apple switches it's operating system to Linux. I cannot claim to be 'in the know' about anything in the greater IT industry. I have put together the following arguments given what I do know about the use of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and my general knowledge of the consumer IT marketplace. I have been using Linux on my PowerPC based Mac Mini for almost two years now, and I could not have asked for better hardware for my open source operating system. There are numerious links and discussions on the net about running Linux on Apple hardware, from the old and new PowerPC models, through to the new Intel based PC's and Laptops. A quick search in Google throws up the following: * * * As these, and other articles indicate, Apple has been very canny in it's dealing with the Free and Open Source Software community. The Linux Kernel runs on their hardware very well. In the past, commercial grade Linux systems have been driven by vendors who have produced their own distribution to sell (RedHat with Enterpiose Linux, Novell with Suse) or else have used certified their sytems to run with these distributions. Apple has steered clear of this, rather they adopted the Open Source Mach kernel, changed the system to meet their needs, and released it as their proprietory operating system MaxOS X. Why should they change? The world is maturing in it's use of Free and Open Software. There are now many examples of communities of software developers which support Free and Open Source software projects, and this community of communities has always learnt from each other, exchanging ideas, and continuing to grow and advance. As if it needed proving, over the last two years the Ubuntu community and Canonical have show that with good leadership it is possible to build a highly successful and popular FOSS project based on an open community development model. Recent agreements between Microsoft and Novell, owner of the Suse distribution, have shown that commercially controlled distributions are open to abuse. The developer and user community that is built around these distribution then suffers accordingly. Whatever the agreements are between these two organisations, Novell must have made some concessions to Microsoft. How can there be a deal without them. These concessions, if they are an acknowledgment of technology which is solely owned and controlled by Microsoft (in the form of software patents) mean that Novel will have to restrict what it's developers can and can't do, regardless of how small, of what that may be. The Free and Open Source Software movement is similar to the internet in this regard. To use a quote - "The Internet interprets censorship as conjestion and routes around it." So what should Apple learn from this? Apple is a single vendor, doing unique things, and reaping the benefits. It has made use of the Free and Open Source Community to open the market for it's servers, particularly in the Higher Education market. The FOSS community, with IBM, has fought and thought that they had won the battle against the unsubstantiated claims brought against them by SCO. Microsoft, a backer of SCO, has now signed a deal with Novell, and is making more intellectual property claims against the FOSS community and Linux in particular. The fact that this has been done under the guise of 'consumer protection' for Novell's customers, a small fraction of our community, makes it even more of a travesty. Apple have shown that they are open to change. They were able to move their entire product line from PowerPC to Intel based processers, and they were able to do this because they had build their Operating System on a base which is designed to be portable. Linux is now (if you believe the web reports) the primary platform for networking research and development. It used to be netBSD. Apple can hold onto their current system, as good as it is, and re-implement all the improvements that will be emerging, or they can (if they haven't already done so) port their gloss and shine to run on top of Linux. In the process, they will be building on the best software development community in the world, strengthening the Free and Open Source movement and guarantee the ongoing existence of this fantastic world wide resource.

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