Out with a Bang, In with a Whimper

It's funny how what should have been one of the greatest open-source PR moves since Netscape opened up the mozilla codebase instead feels like "too little, too late."

Apple has announced Mac OS Forge, a project to do what OpenDarwin was already essentially created to do. It comes on the heels of months of bad PR about Apple failing to put out the X86 kernel source, and OpenDarwin shutting down due to a lack of communication between Apple and the open-source community and a lack of community involvement in general (other than a few specific exceptions like dports and WebKit).

For a company that's done a great job of getting developers excited about their platform, this really shows they don't understand the community they're trying to get help from.

The most important thing you can give an open-source developer is the feeling that he's doing something with impact; that he's donating his time to something that others will appreciate and find useful. He wants to know that the work he's doing goes, maybe not into the public domain, but into a world where everyone can stand on each other's shoulders to make something good. And he wants to know that the work he does will be there in the future, for other people to stand on and take to the next level.

If, at any time during the last 6 months, Apple had said "we understand your concerns, we have some issues that we need to work out but we are committed to keeping things open" people would be jumping for joy to hear this announcement. Instead, so far as I've seen, the overwhelming response has been... WTF? There is nothing to be gained by hiding your open-source strategy. "Release early, release often" isn't a mantra just for the sake of having one.

Those of us doing open-source development on the mac are already aware that Apple has never been entirely open, and that they are especially secretive of upcoming announcements of any kind (and I salute those of you at Apple who I'm sure had to fight to make this happen at all) but it's a shame that Apple had to let things sink to such a low before doing their triumphant return. I'm sure there are many folks who will think twice before donating code to these projects, because in the back of their mind, they're thinking, "What happens if Apple drops support again? Will my code just bitrot?"

Remember, for a project to truly stand the test of time, it has to grow beyond the few people that created it and think of it as their "baby." You have to get the community involved and excited about your software. You have to get people who are not only users, but want to help out and make your project shine. Plenty of good software goes to waste because no one ever helps out, and the core developers stop needing to work on it, or move on to other things, and they have no one to pass the mantle to. Good software dies not because it was inferior, but because it didn't try hard enough to get people's desire to contribute.

I wish Mac OS Forge well -- more open-source software on the Mac can never be a bad thing; I hope they can prove me wrong and get a huge following and rival SourceForge in the variety and vitality of projects, but it was certainly given a poor place to start from. I hope, at the least, Apple has learned their lesson and will learn to work with the people that get excited about Mac OS X, and want to see it succeed, rather than punish them for their boosterism. Those boosters were the ones who put iBooks and PowerBooks into every alpha geek's hands 3 or 4 years ago to the present. Without them, you're relegated to the sidelines.

For now, I guess all we can do is wait and see...

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4 comments to Out with a Bang, In with a Whimper

  • mel Gross

    Please don’t think that the open source community is “special”.
    Apple does what they do to protect their interests, while at the same time tries to be helpful.
    JUST as people in the open source community do. Please let’s not pretend that everyone involved in open source is doing it merely for the general good, rather than for their own vanity. We have seen plenty of evidence against that idea!
    So, if Apple wishes to keep their plans to themselves, no matter what you think their reasons are, be appreciative that at least they have plans, and that they did release it.
    Sometimes you just have to work the way they do, rather than them working the way you do.

  • Ray Gos

    Yeah, but there’s just a bit too much self-congratulation/promotion here: You’ve alienated me and my alpha-geek kind and we’re going to go and play with our toys elsewhere.

  • Gross, I’m not saying they’re special, but I am saying that if you’re going to try to market to a group like the open-source community, you should at least realize where their loyalty comes from. And of course vanity is a part of people’s reasons for doing open-source stuff… But…
    Ultimately, Apple’s platform doesn’t have to be open-source for them to be supportive of the community. BeOS didn’t open anything but they still had a pretty thriving developer community. What really matters is, trust. Trust that they won’t leave you out to dry with all the time you’ve invested in developing for them. Communication is a big part of that trust.
    Apple makes great hardware, and great software, and they have a knack for making people really love their products, but you have to admit, that kind of trusting communication is the one thing Apple is really bad at. In some ways it makes them more mysterious, and riles up the fanatics (and arguably gives them a bit of lead time in front of the competition), but it also makes folks wary.
    That’s why I say “wait and see.” I’m certainly not ready to abandon Apple (I’m not going to “play with [my] toys elsewhere”). I love developing on Mac OS X and as a whole I think it has a great future, and for the most part, I think they treat developers pretty well. I just wish Apple had been more forthcoming when they had the chance; they could have avoided a lot of bad blood.

  • Was OpenDarwin intended to be a hosting platform for Mac OS-related open-source projects, or a community-maintained and developed distribution of the Darwin OS? My understanding is that it was more of the latter, and simply evolved into the former because OpenDarwin itself proved to be a dead-end as an OS.
    Certainly it’s good that Apple is stepping up to provide some kind of support/platform for Mac-specific OS projects.