Who cares? I do.

Tom Yager recently blogged about Apple’s apparent abandonment of the x86 branch of the Darwin kernel source code with the title, “Apple closes down OS X.” (read the article) Ernest Prabhakar quickly answererd with this response, emphasizing that this was really just speculation that Apple would eventually close the source to the (x86) XNU kernel. When I first read this article, I felt that it was a bit sensational myself, as I keep up with the OpenDarwin community, and was aware that it was all just speculation in light of no official word from Apple. In the end, I suspected Mr. Yager was trying to provoke a response from the Mac user community / open source community that might force Apple to finally release the (x86) XNU source.

Well, it seems that his strategy (if this was his strategy) may be showing some fruit. I’m not saying Apple’s showing signs of finally making good on their open source commitment and releasing the withheld source code, but in Mr. Yager’s most recent article on the subject, he writes about Apple’s response to his first article. If you are at all interested in this issue, I encourage you to read this latest article because it helps expose an ugly mindset coming from someone at Apple. What they’re really saying is, “Who cares?” Mr. Yager writes that the people he spoke with at Apple basically challenged him to identify who was really put out by their withholding the source code. They then went on to marginalize the ones that Mr. Yager identified. I think this shows a real lack of appreciation and understanding for open source from someone at Apple.

I understand that Apple is currently facing a challenge in keeping OS X locked to their own hardware, and that the first real threat has reared its head in the form of clones sold overseas. (reference) I don’t know, technically, how to prevent such piracy. Is closing the source an effective way to do it? Perhaps. But I have personally seen Mac OS X (10.4.6) running on non-Apple hardware. If such pirates haven’t had access to the x86 source since 10.4.3, does it seem like they actually need the source to circumvent Apple’s protections? And perhaps there is a way to involve the community in helping to develop a secure anti-piracy / anti-theft component for OS X? Maybe there’s a way to obfuscate the code in such a way as to make reverse engineering the source as difficult as reverse engineering the binaries?

I’m not saying I have all the answers to this complicated issue. I just know that Apple can’t have it both ways. If they want to be a market innovator, and known as a friend to the open source community with all the benefits that come with that friendship, they have to maintain their commitment to open source. I really like what Mr. Yager used to close his latest article:

It’s not about code. It’s about character.

I don’t know what is necessary for Apple to find its corporate character on this issue. Mr. Yager chose to appeal to Steve himself in his article. I will appeal to anyone who identifies themself as being in the “fraction of a fraction” of geeks who are interested in seeing that the XNU kernel source remains open. Post a comment to this blog entry and/or submit feedback using Apple’s general Mac OS X feeback page. Maybe we can all help them find their character by saying, “I do.” when they ask “Who cares?”