Apple takes Mac OS X to open source

Apple Computer has embraced the open source software movement by releasing the source code for some key components of its Mac OS X Server operating system, which went on sale yesterday. Open source guru Eric Raymond declared himself 'delighted' by Apple's move.

Apple Computer has embraced the open source software movement by releasing the source code for some key components of its Mac OS X Server operating system, which went on sale yesterday.

"We think this is a path to build the most secure operating system and the most robust operating system in the shortest amount of time," said Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs at a press conference at the company's Cupertino headquarters this morning. He also called Mac OS X, "Apple's first modern server operating system we've ever shipped."

The open source release, called Darwin, will be available free to developers in a few weeks at http://www.apple.com/darwin/. Jobs claimed that Apple is the first major computing company to go open source with its operating system.

Apple also announced that the customer version of Mac OS X Server is now shipping, priced at $US499. Apple pitched the operating system as an affordable, easy-to-use platform that will allow small and medium-sized businesses and schools to quickly build a Web presence.

"We're not saying we'll take over the server market, that's not our goal. Our goal is to offer an incredibly powerful and affordable server package," said Jobs.

Darwin, the open source release, includes the Mach 2.5 microkernel, BSD 4.4 operating system and the Apache Web server. It also includes Apple technologies like AppleTalk, the HFS+ file system and the NetInfo distributed database.

The Mach kernel, BSD and Apache are already open source programs. Apple's contribution comes from the fact that it has enhanced those programs for the Mac OS and is now making those enhancements freely available to others, Jobs said.

At least one analyst said that Darwin signaled a major change in approach for Apple.

"I think Steve in the past has been the high priest of proprietary (software) and this is a good step for Apple," said Chris le Tocq, director of software consulting with Gartner Group.

Le Tocq noted the lack of mail server software in the commercial release of Mac OS X as a drawback for corporate users who might otherwise have been interested in the operating system. However, Apple does plan to bundle a robust mail server with Mac OS X in the future, Jobs said.

Jobs also acknowledged that the new operating system won't run any current Mac OS applications.

Boosters of the open source movement were understandably pleased with Apple's news.

"The Open Source Initiative is delighted about this announcement ... we hope it will encourage them to open source more stuff in the future, so in the end it will all be open source," said Eric Raymond, president of the Open Source Initiative.

Making the OS open source will also provide a valuable tool for educators, said a university representative.

"This now makes available a modern, production-level operating system that professors can use to show students," said Gavin Eadie, director of the strategic technology group at the University of Michigan.

Apple also said it will offer Mac OS X Server preconfigured on a Macintosh Server G3 for $US4,999. The system includes a 400MHz processor with 1Mb of Level 2 cache memory, 2 9Gb Ultra 2 SCSI hard drives, a 24-speed CD-ROM and a 4-port 10/100 Ethernet controller.

Going forward, Jobs said Apple will concentrate on that sub-$5,000 market, where it will primarily target smaller businesses and the educators, among whom Apple traditionally has found a strong following.

The company is expected to announce a desktop version of Mac OS X later in the year.

Apple Computer Inc., based in Cupertino, California, can be reached at +1-408-996-1010 or on the Web at http://www.apple.com/.

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