DAILY MAIL & GUARDIAN March 31, 1999

New World

Corporate evolution
JAMAIS CASCIO advises suits and other Hollywood weasels on what could happen over the next hundred years. He worries about being called a futurist.


pen Source is the movement to make and use software that is freely modifiable by anyone, provided that the modifications are in turn freely available to others. As increasing number of programmers across the net examine the source code, bugs are found and fixed, security is tightened, and new features are added. While the Linux operating system is probably the most widely-known Open Source project, other Open Source programs -- such as the Apache web server and the Perl programming language -- have become the glue that holds much of the Internet together.

Open Source is generating more than a little buzz among programmers. It is a revolution in the software industry, in my view the first true manifestation of a new economic model emerging on the Internet. Adding to the source is done for notoriety, for respect -- but not for money, at least not directly. Eric Raymond's seminal essay, The Cathedral and the Bazaar, describes the differences between the world of free software and the world of proprietary software beautifully.

Last week, Apple Computer started selling its latest attempt at a server operating system. While desktop and laptop computers (often called "client" machines in industry jargon) get much of the popular attention, servers -- the machines that run in the back office, providing file storage and Internet services -- are really the guts of an organization. Apple has been notoriously weak in the server market, and most analysts expected that this new software -- given the ungainly title of MacOS X Server -- would do little to change that.

But Apple did something unexpected. Not only did they start shipping the software -- a version of the powerful Unix server operating system, with a MacOS-based interface -- they made significant portions of it available for free. The Unix foundations of the system, all of the networking and file service protocols that make it powerful, can be downloaded, along with source code, directly from Apple. Calling these server foundations "Darwin", Apple Computer has jumped on the Open Source bandwagon.

With Darwin, Apple has attempted to get into the Open Source movement, to tap into the excitement and to get access to the advantages that Open Source provides; Eric Raymond stood beside Steve Jobs at the MacOS X Server announcement, giving it his blessing. Open Source is Apple's judo in its ongoing competition with Microsoft. Smaller and weaker, Apple can't hope to compete in the retail server industry against the Windows NT juggernaut. But in the world of the programmers and net administrators who follow Open Source, what's cool, efficient, and powerful counts for much more than what's on the cover of in-flight magazines.

Apple's move has, in a matter of days, engendered significant controversy. The Open Source movement, like many revolutions, tends to be harsher towards its wavering friends than towards its heartfelt enemies. The moment that Apple announced its Apple Public Source License, or APSL, Open Source advocates jumped on it, tearing at its details, looking for flaws. Not surprisingly, they found some.

The loudest complaint was that the APSL was not really Open Source, that it carried with it restrictions that no upstanding source hacker could ever abide. The initial, moderate criticisms of Open Source pioneer Bruce Perens were drowned out by those who claimed Apple was twisting Open Source for marketing purposes, and was only out to get free labor on the part of programmers. Some of the comments about the APSL rang true, however, and Apple started to call its license a work in progress, promising to make clarifications and modifications to it that would address many of the complaints.

But many of those criticizing Apple seemed unclear on why Apple was doing this to begin with. The Linux community has so dominated the Open Source conversations of late that, when Apple stepped in to participate, they naturally believed that they were the intended market for Darwin. After all, it's based on Unix, just like Linux, right? And it's Open Source, right? Apple was trying to recruit Linux programmers to write for the Mac, right?

Wrong. Apple knows that its only chance for continued survival is the good will of the thousands of developers who write software that runs on Apple machines. Unlike Microsoft, Apple can't assume that people will write programs for them simply because of who they are -- they don't have the huge market share that makes developers willing to put up with anything just to get access. Apple needed to do something to speak to the developers out there, let them know that Apple is willing to work with them, give them interesting things to do, if only they keep writing for the Mac. Apple still desires to change the computer world. By giving up the source, Apple is admitting that it can't do this alone.

© Daily Mail & Guardian - March 31, 1999

* Jamias Cascio is a consultant and writer specializing in scenarios of how we may live over the next century. His clients have included mainstream corporations, film and television producers. He has written for many publications, including Wired and TIME, and is currently working on a screenplay. He is an active member of the oldest and most influential online community, The Well, and believes that new technologies are pushing people into new social, economic and political realms.

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Published weekly by the Electronic Mail & Guardian, Johannesburg, South Africa. Send email comments to the editor, Gavin Dudley