Tomorrow's War: Why FOSS Needs to Change its Views of Apple: Page 2

Posted September 2, 2008

Bruce Byfield

Bruce Byfield

(Page 2 of 2)

The Open Source Emphasis on Quality

Still another reason for under-estimating Apple goes to the core of the differences in the community. Although the free and open source supporters are close enough in outlook that they can work together on a daily basis, the two camps actually have very different outlooks. For free software advocates, sharing code is a means of giving all users control over their computing. But, although open source advocates often support free software's goal, for many of them sharing code is primarily a means of improving software quality.

The result of this difference is that while free software advocates avoid proprietary software, some open source advocates are open to using proprietary software if they are convinced that it is the best tool for the job. A few years ago, for example, Linus Torvalds insisted on using BitKeeper for version control in the development of the Linux kernel, until a change in licensing made him change his mind.

In the same way, if your main concern is software quality, it is hard to argue with using OS X. Much of the software on Apple computers does seem higher quality than the equivalent software on Windows, and, of course, for years Apple has led the way in usability design.

Add the reputation that the BSD operating systems have for even greater security and design excellence than GNU/Linux, and you can easily understand why those community members who are more oriented to software quality than to software freedom are more accepting of OS X than Windows. They may consider using an Apple machine an expedient until GNU/Linux catches up, but, no matter what their excuse happens to be, the point is that their orientation leads them directly into accepting proprietary software.

Not Looking Beyond Microsoft

Yet perhaps the greatest reason that FOSS community members give Apple a free pass is that they are too busy worrying about Microsoft to notice other concerns.

Those who focus on Microsoft's activities like to cast themselves in the role of watchdogs on behalf of the community. And perhaps they occasionally do some service in this role, although their many false alarms frequently discredit them.

But the main problem is that those who focus closely on Microsoft frequently ignore what else might be happening. Questions about how FOSS-based companies are acting within the community tend to be ignored, while other monopolies, such as that of Adobe in the design community are hardly noticed at all. As for a likely monopoly in the making like Apple, it receives next to no notice at all. Too often, neither the energy nor the interest in looking beyond Microsoft seems to exist.

The Coming Conflict

I would hate to see an anti-Apple sentiment to match the existing anti-Microsoft paranoia that already wastes so much community time. All the same, no matter what the social or historical trends that cause the FOSS community to see Apple in a friendly way, the time is overdue to re-evaluate the prevailing attitude. Increasingly, ignoring Apple's growing significance in emerging markets is looking like a profound mistake.

Mobile devices are clearly one of the Next Big Things in computing. That's why desktops like KDE are paying increasing attention to porting their work so that it will run on as many platforms as possible. And, while the mobile market is still rapidly changing, Apple seems to be emerging as one of its leaders. If this trend continues, then, by clinging to old attitudes and focusing on Microsoft, the FOSS community is preparing for the last campaign and ignoring the one that is coming in the next few years.

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Tags: Linux, Microsoft, iPhone, OS X

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