OpenDarwin project shutting down

I was disappointed to receive an email yesterday from Rob Braun, announcing the soon termination of the OpenDarwin project. As Mr. Braun writes:

OpenDarwin has failed to achieve its goals in 4 years of operation, and moves further from achieving these goals as time goes on. For this reason, OpenDarwin will be shutting down.

First of all, I want to thank the OpenDarwin project and those who have contributed their efforts over the lifetime of the project. I have had an opportunity to explore aspects of Darwin / Mac OS X that I would otherwise not have had. I realize that these efforts have largely gone unnoticed and unappreciated. I want them to know that the project will most certainly be missed.

Now, for those that may not know much about OpenDarwin, I’ll try to explain its purpose to the best of my understanding. Apple has been releasing its Darwin source code since Mac OS X 10.0. But this source has not necessarily been very useful. Throughout the development of Darwin / Mac OS X, there have been those that wanted to interact and work with the Darwin source code as they were accustomed to doing with Linux or one of the BSDs. The OpenDarwin project existed primarily to facilitate this effort, to make the Apple-released Darwin code more useful.

So what led the project leadership to the decision to shut down the project? Well, as I’ve written about here before, Apple has recently changed their release schedule regarding the Darwin source. In fact, the x86 sources appear to have dried up entirely. While some have pointed out that Apple hasn’t made any official explanation as to the “delay,” and that we might yet expect the x86 source to materialize, this latest development in the OpenDarwin project casts sharp doubts as to the eventual release of the x86 source, at least in my opinion. Certainly this wasn’t the only issue that was a sore spot between Apple and the OpenDarwin project. Developers have referred to a long-standing distrust between the two parties that stem from various issues. Perhaps this x86 source issue was just the last straw. Indeed the announcement from Mr. Braun indicates a sense of frustration and resignation.

What does it all mean? Well, for many, of course, it won’t mean anything. The OpenDarwin project has lived in relative obscurity for these past years. Certain OD projects, of course, have had great popularity, most notably, the excellent DarwinPorts project. But the core effort to bring order and meaning to the Darwin sources has arguably made little impact in the Mac OS X community. So, while some may not think the demise of the OpenDarwin project significant, I think this may just be another sign that something is going terribly awry at Cupertino.

After all, Apple has benefited measurably from the impression that they are a good citizen in the open source community. I, for one, know a number of colleagues that have “switched” in part because they had gotten that impression themselves, or because I had given it to them. I don’t wish to Apple-bash here, however. Apple is, in fact, an open source citizen. And they have made some important contributions. The newly reorganized WebKit (link will be invalid soon) project shows particular promise. But despite their contributions, I wonder if they can be considered a good open source citizen. And, if they are found undeserving of the credit they’ve received, what then? <a href=”http://www.opendarwin.org/~bbraun/osfail.html”?>This post</a> from Mr. Braun describes, in his words, why Darwin failed and serves to shed some light on these questions.

One of the OD project goals, I believe, was to keep Apple honest. If the project leadership feel that they have failed in that goal, what can we now expect from Apple? Is there an opportunity to fill the void left by the OpenDarwin project? Can anyone who enjoys Darwin / Mac OS X hope to participate in or contribute to its development like those who enjoy Linux? Maybe we need a ReOpenedDarwin project.