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Apple goes open source with key OS components

March 17, 1999
Web posted at: 8:04 a.m. EST (1304 GMT)

by Jeff Walsh


(IDG) -- Apple Computer joined the open-source movement Tuesday when it announced it would release the source code for various components of its Mac OS X Server, which is now shipping.

The components Apple is releasing as part of its Darwin project -- because "it's about evolution," according to interim CEO Steve Jobs -- are the Mach 2.5 microkernel, BSD Unix 4.4 OS, and the Apache Web server. All are part of Mac OS X Server.

Darwin also features core Apple technologies such as AppleTalk, HFS-Plus file system, and the NetInfo distributed database.

"Apple is the first major computer company to do this with an operating system," Jobs said.

Jobs said the decision to go forward with the open-source project happened six months ago.

"This is a path to get the most secure operating system and the most robust operating system in the quickest amount of time," Jobs said.

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The other main components of the Mac OS X Server that are not being made open source are the Mac file services, NetBoot, and the WebObjects application server.

One analyst praised the move by Apple, which has always been perceived as highly proprietary about its operating system and hardware.

"Steve [Jobs] has been the high priest of proprietary, so this is a good step," said Chris Le Tocq, an analyst at Dataquest, in San Jose, Calif. Some developers questioned when other Apple technologies would be made open source, prompting Jobs to give the Apple company line about not pre-announcing things.

Dave Winer, president of UserLand Software, in Burlingame, Calif., said the announcement was a marketing event.

"It was a Jobs event, and he's a very good salesman," Winer said. "The question is, does it interest anybody?"

Some developers questioned what Apple was actually releasing, because the source code it is opening up already comes from existing open-source projects. Le Tocq said that is missing the point.

"You can argue that Red Hat Linux is a half-hearted gesture because it is open source, but the value is in the integration and making sure everything works together," Le Tocq said.

"It's okay to get pieces, but it's in the integration of the pieces where you get the real value," Le Tocq added.

During the announcement, Jobs had open-source leaders available to say a few words about the impact of Apple joining the open-source movement.

"Apple has participated in good faith for the past year working on the Apache Project," said Brian Behlendorf, co-founder of the Apache Web Server Project. "It's clear to us they seem to get it when it comes to open-source development."

Eric Raymond, who runs the Open Source Initiative and authored the influential open-source essay "The Cathedral and the Bazaar," said the license Apple is using for its source code meets the standards set up by his group, although he did prompt Jobs to open up even more technologies.

"Any time more source goes open, everybody wins," Raymond said.

During the event, Phil Schiller, Apple's vice president of worldwide marketing, set up a Mac OS X Server in about ten minutes, which did not impress Winer.

"I set up a [Windows] NT Server a few days ago, and it was remarkably like that," Winer said.

During the presentation, Jobs announced the price for Mac OS X Server was reduced from $999 to $499 due to user feedback. Jobs also praised the NetBoot feature of the new server as the "third way" to do network computing, having a thick client without a hard drive, which enables network administrators to update only one copy of the OS and any applications for all the system's users.

"It's an administrator's dream because they only have to change one application and everyone gets it," Jobs said.

Jobs said Apple does not plan on taking over the server market with this announcement.

"This is Apple's first modern operating system we've ever shipped," Jobs said. "We're not suggesting we're going to take over the server market. That's not our goal."

The company will also sell a new high-end loaded G3 system with Mac OS X Server for $4,999. The server is initially targeted primarily at the education sector and small businesses, Jobs said.

The server OS itself does not run any current Mac OS applications, and at present features no mail server, although Jobs said one would be bundled in the future.

Darwin can be downloaded now from (link below).

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Download Darwin from Apple Computer's home site
Apple Computer, Inc.
Apple Opens OS Code- Wired News

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