OS X Jumps on the Open Source Bandwagon

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Apple interim CEO Steve Jobs, springing yet another surprise on the computer industry, announced today that the company will give away the source code to key parts of its new Mac OS X Server software, which is now shipping. Apple thus becomes the first major operating system developer to adopt an Open Source strategy, a growing computer industry movement in which programmers are free to add their own innovations to someone else's software, as long as they make those changes available to other developers. Mac OS X Server–or more precisely, a subset of the software known as Darwin–thus joins such well known Open Source technologies as the Linux operating system and Apache Web server.

Jobs made the announcement Tuesday during a press briefing at Apple's Cupertino headquarters. He also revealed that Apple will drop the price of Mac OS X Server from $999 to $499. In addition, the company offers the software in a $4,999 bundle with a Power Mac G3.

But it was the Open Source announcement that raised eyebrows. Darwin incorporates the underlying components of Mac OS X Server–the Mach 2.5 microkernel, the BSD 4.4 version of Unix, and the Apache Web server–as well as key Apple technologies, such as AppleTalk and the HFS+ file system. It will not include Mac OS X Server's graphical user interface–developers will have to create their own windowing environments–but Jobs characterized Darwin as a fully functional modern operating system.

Any developer who agrees to Apple's Open Source licensing agreement can download the software and use it as the basis for new products. Apple devised the agreement with assistance from the Open Source Initiative, a nonprofit industry group promoting Open Source software. Open Source Initiative president Eric Raymond, who appeared on stage with Jobs, said the license agreement fully conforms to accepted Open Source standards. "Apple really gets it," he said. "I hope it develops into a pattern for other computer makers."

Gavin Eadie, director of the Strategic Technology Group at the University of Michigan, said the Open Source move will have an added educational benefit: it will give computer students a chance to see the underpinnings of a modern OS.

During a question-and-answer session following the briefing, Apple software chief Avie Tevanian acknowledged that major portions of Darwin, including BSD 4.4 and Apache, are already available as Open Source. However, he said that Apple has made its own modifications to these components and would like to see its versions in the hands of Open Source developers.

In addition to announcing the Open Source move, Jobs also presided over a demonstration of Mac OS X Server, which the company is targeting largely at schools and small businesses. He noted that Mac OS X Server running on a 400MHz Power Mac G3 outperformed comparably configured Linux, Solaris, and Windows NT Web servers in WebBench benchmark testing conducted by ZD Labs.

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