Open Source

Steve Jobs' effect on open source

Although not a fan of Apple products, Jack Wallen does see how Steve Jobs did actually do some good for open source -- in ways some may not have considered. Read on and see if you agree.

I preface this by saying a couple of things. First and foremost -- rest in peace Mr. Jobs. What you accomplished in your life cannot, in any way, be refuted. Second, I am not and have never been a fan of the Apple product. So what you are about to read might be of some surprise...but in light of the loss, I want to honor and respect the dead.

I fully believe Steve Jobs had a fairly profound (yet unrecognized) effect on open source. This effect may not have been completely direct, but his life and times with Apple certainly had an impact on open source software. Let me explain.

Before Steve Jobs dreamed up iTunes, the open source world was chugging along happily with single-purpose, multimedia players like XMMS. Sure they worked well, but managing large numbers of music was not the easiest task and the interface was a bit shy of user-friendly (but then most everything back then in the open source world was less than user-friendly). Along comes iTunes and the iPod and everything changed. The masses fell in love with this new device and the idea of carrying around their entire music collection in their pockets.

Problem! That shiny new iPod had no desire to communicate with Linux. It was up to the developers to make this work. And they did. Gtkpod was created, which became a mostly-reliable solution for using the iPod on Linux. Of course things evolve and Apple had a penchant for breaking things so that the open source developers were once again reverse-engineering a solution. But there was no other way. It became quite clear the iPod was the future of music enjoyment and the open source developers had to stay on their toes -- otherwise anyone wanting to own an iPod would have to use either Apple or Windows.

That was not and is not a viable solution to any open source fan.

So ... in that sense, Apple helped open source to make sure their reverse-engineering skills were just about the best in the world. It also proved that no matter what a company does to their product, most likely the open source developer can overcome the obstacles put in place. As a result, I can connect an iPhone to a Linux-based PC and, at least, sync music and photos. Had Steve Jobs not brought the iPod and iTunes to life -- open source developers would now be reverse-engineering the Zune to be of use on Linux. Shudder.

How else did Steve Jobs help open source?

Design. This one many might argue with, but when Steve Jobs rejoined Apple and the new products started hitting the shelves, it became clear the masses wanted something other than the usual boring beige towers and black laptops. Along with that was a shift from the tired desktop metaphor known as the Windows Desktop. When OS X arrived it proved that people could, in fact, adjust to change and that a desktop with some eye candy could be user-friendly. This gave the developers of such tools as Compiz and Cairo dock all the impetus they needed to forge on with their brilliant products. After all, if Apple could basically "borrow" those technologies (in design and execution), there was no reason why the originals couldn't flourish.

Although they didn't flourish as much as we would all like them to have, they continued on.

Finally, what Steve Jobs did to bring Apple back to the public also helped open source in one major way. As much as I hate to say this, without Apple around, Microsoft would be seen (by the naked public eye) as the only player in the market. If that were to have happened, open source would probably be nothing more than a blip on a screen -- another BeOS or OS/2. But with OS X out there, the general public realized there were other choices and those choices were actually superior to what they were accustomed to. OS X helped to open the door to open source a little further.

Considering the circumstances, I don't want to dig into the argument of what Steve Jobs and Apple did to hurt open source. So, for now, I salute Steve Jobs for what he and his products did for open source. Regardless of how he conducted business or what his products did for the state of "lock down", Jobs was a genius and deserves a salute from the Penguin as he is remembered in a time of loss.

And besides, Mr. Jobs did a heck of a job making the desktop and laptop cool again. So long Jobs, and thanks for all the fish.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

26 comments
anokpeas
anokpeas

atleast steve jobs isn't bill gates. imagine the world with two bill gates...

wyattbiker
wyattbiker

It felt good having a Linux/BSD compatible OS, with a well thought out Desktop and support from so many open source and commercial applications. It's nice to drop to terminal and know most Linux commands work.

bornbyforce
bornbyforce

With your way of arguing you may as well say the nation of Israel must be grateful to the Nazi Germans because as a result of the massacre now they own their own country! What kind of logic is this? Because Apple was so insanely closed minded about their product, open source community had to double their effort to just get their OS connected to the new hardware? Is that what you are trying to say? Is that even a contribution? Respecting the dead specially one with significant achievements like Steve Jobs is good. But please refer to your common sense a little more!

radleym
radleym

Let's see, open source is not good for the industry because it operates on an open model, whereas Apple is good because it operates a closed high-profit model. Jobs stole the work of the open-source BSD developers, closed his version, and sold it. What does that tell you about the quality of open source projects. And hey, all you people who claim open source can,t be monetized just follow Steve's model - steal it and sell it.

The Management consultant
The Management consultant

Maybe on balance the answer is both.Controlling source code certainly put Android on the map and made it the market leader spawning a development revolution in apps.The very fact he challenged MS and knocked windows off the low innovation industry monopoly allowing OS to get going was a big plus. Freeware was also a stimulus for other freeware vendors to enter the market.Whilst Unix/linux has seen a revival in Apples wake.

Dominant500
Dominant500

Wherever there is a strong Ying, there is the need for a strong Yang. Apple was always such a closed system that it really exposed the need for open source. I have never been a fan of Apple products but I do appreciate the product improvement they have consistently driven the market to. That may seem like an inconsistency but with Apple products there was always something not quite right (price not being the least of which).

billyg
billyg

I believe you are correct in your individual observations... but... IMHO, you undervalue "the masses" and you undervalue design in presenting your analysis. Design is the the meta-container that takes brilliant code along with not-so-brilliant code and bends and organizes it until the result is beautiful. Before Steve Jobs most of the industry was doing a C- job of making the simple easy and the difficult possible. Steve raised the bar. He required not only that the simple be easy and the difficult possible, but that the resultant package must be beautiful (still a non-objective in some circles.) That he did this to everything he touched in one short lifetime, I think is pure genius. I can understand most objections to Apple products from the Open Source world. Openness IS the the ultimate objective, the product of that great effort. But, when an individual from the great unwashed masses picks up a music player, they really don't want a CLI to acquire, organize, and play their music. Steve put the openness objective on its head and asserted that a beautiful functional object was the objective. That necessarily was a forcing function on innovation. But beyond that he brilliantly managed supply chains, quality and process control. He bridged disparate industries and forged deals where no other could tread. I think he made one other very important contribution -- he convinced many people they don't have to steal music. For that alone, I'm sure many artists are grateful.

Gisabun
Gisabun

Still waiting for the Pope to give him a fast track to sainthood and every country in the world to honor him with a national holiday on his birth day and death day. :-) Seriously, how did he help open source? What is it that he did? If anything it's the opposite. Instead of installing an app for free [other than promos from the App Store], you have to pay. Reverse engineer? That's more like cheating or plagerizing.

spage
spage

Apple, under the insistence of Jobs, has thrived much to the detriment of Open Source and transparency. Starting with the choice of Unix as the backbone for OS X, to repeatedly choosing "lock down" as the modus operandi for all things Apple. Jobs insisted on an environment of secrecy and lock-down within Apple. The "closed source" model was expanded beyond software and had become the over-arching management style for Apple. From the announcement of security updates, to new product launches, to product design, Jobs and Apple have popularized the "psychology of lockdown" to the point where the public now readily accepts it.

alexansp
alexansp

Before there was the one major key player..... Microsoft. In the mix of all the "smaller players", Apple had the lead of showing that there were other "just as good or better" solutions to having a computer that could do their "computer activities".... in comparison to Microsoft's solutions. There were many people who joined the "bandwagon" provided by the single company's (Apple) products, showing the computing industry that there are more than just using the solutions provided by Microsoft. The good part, is that this also got many other people curious & brave enough to adventure out and try the many other solutions provided by the open source community. It also helps when a single company has grown to the success of having a open solution OS.... as Google has done with the Android OS. It is well known that the company in the number one position can easily lose that position when companies in the #2 & #3 position work together to overtake the company in #1 position....... for in popularity for solutions that they can provide.

PassingWind
PassingWind

There is such a thing as 'good for the industry' even in a competitive industry. Apple was good for the industry, and the sad loss of Steve Jobs makes us all poorer. Apple shows what you can achieve with lock down. Windows shows what you can achieve with market mass and muscle. And they spur one another on. Windows finds a way of competing with Apple, without the same lock down. Apple finds a way of competing with Windows without the same market mass. And simply because enough people are prepared to freely share their work, Linux finds a way of competing without lock down, market mass or muscle.

kashyap.bikram
kashyap.bikram

Apple gave a good challenge and was consistently raising the bar for products and linux became better for having to face the challenge. MS also faced the same, and both linux and windows improved by different amounts in different area, like linux improved a lot in user friendliness(linux was always good for commands anyways). Similarly, windows improved for commands(power shell), which was a effect of linux I guess. So the whole world benefited from the work of Steve Jobs, specially the contribution to making user experience a priority.

ian
ian

Although I too am no fan of apple products (often due to the unbearable smugness of their advocates as well as their "locked in" architecture) I have to agree that the challenges produced by that very locked-inness have generated much useful design. However the day I buy an apple product is the day I admit defeat - and I don't see it coming soon.

tony
tony

if only by the fact that Apple was an even more locked down system than Windows. My personal observation is that you need three strong competitors in any area to have genuine choice and the best of all worlds. If the only choice to move away from Windows is open source, then inertia tends to keep you in place. But if you have two choices, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, you tend to make a more rational decision.

mayankbhagya
mayankbhagya

Besides these indirect contributions, I think, Jobs has supported Open environment to some extent (certainly not, if we talk about operating systems or development environments). But he was a strong supporter of HTML5 over technologies like Flash. He joined hands with Khronos to come up with open standards like OpenCL. Also OSX has quite a lot of parts that are open source.

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

Any development model, be it open or closed source, benefits from innovation in that it raises the bar. Sometimes it comes down to outright imitation, emulation, and reverse engineering. Other times one innovation shows the way so that others may innovate. Mr Jobs and his company showed us what a desktop could be (one vision of it anyway), and thus raised the bar for Gnome and KDE as well as others. At the same time, Linux has raised the bar a time or two as well. I must agree that Apple's OSX "legitimatised" Linux on the desktop. You covered the first way it did so adequately, the the second way is somewhat more subtle. OSX at it's kernel is BSD. To many who questioned it, OSX demonstrated that a production desktop operating system could be built upon the progeny of UNIX. It also showed the Linux crowd that it could be made simple enough for general use. Media players and their interfaces can trace their roots back longer than iTunes... Remember Sonique? While the code was... interesting, it was the first media player to use a non-standard interface, and it did it in Windows 95/98. That made a lot of people scramble. Granted, Apple's sexy shiny hardware offerings made the Linux world scramble a time or two to communicate with it in a meaningful way... but we should have been working toward this goal anyway. After all, Linux is about choice, not dominance. This is not a zero sum game. Competition is healthy and good for both the businesses involved and the consumer. This document is a prime example of this principle. I am typing on a Microsoft Natural keyboard, on a machine running Mint, looking at a Samsung 22" LCD panel (old eyes are a pain), and listening to music from my iPod through Banshee. As a mater of fact, I do like it my way, and I accomplish this by standing on the shoulders of Giants like Mr. Jobs. He and I disagreed on much, but some of the the basic tenents of his philosophy are worth a second look regardless of your choice of OS.

wizard57m-cnet
wizard57m-cnet

I can only wish it reads "Should TR send Jack Wallen to ZDNet"? This blog post like many of his demonstrates a total hatred for Microsoft. I mean, really...the Windows Desktop? Sheesh, hey Jack, you need to update your Windows installation to at least Windows 3.1!! The only parts of this post that make any sense are "rest in peace Mr. Jobs"

Silverlokk
Silverlokk

First off, OS X uses the BSD utilities, not the kernel. The OS X kernel is based on the Mach microkernel. Second, the BSD license allows for free use of BSD-licensed software, even more freely than does the GPL. Anyone can take BSD-licensed software and modify it, without sharing the modifications. Therefore Jobs couldn't have "stolen" BSD-licensed software.

bornbyforce
bornbyforce

Though this is not really helping the open-source. It is rather enriching the market and helping the customer. I agree that 3 is the minimum to make the word "choice" meaningful. With 2 competitors you always tend to look at it as the giant and the underdog. When there are 3 your brain compares things in a less linear fashion.

T3CHN0M4NC3R
T3CHN0M4NC3R

The way I see it. Most of Apple are from the open projects. Steve work with them and either steal or buy them and then sell them. Wasn't OSX based on Linux in the first place?

rpollard
rpollard

If the Linux development community would take the hint and find someone with a single vision like Steve had and make the Linux desktop usable by the masses it would make much better inroads in the desktop arena. Right now it sucks for the average Joe and is not acceptable by the masses as you have to do things that only a techy could love. Get the real genius behind Jobs Mr. Penguin, and make it usable by the masses!!!

Sagax-
Sagax-

That is one of the points of the post. Many people want more options in their hardware, software, and OS. M$ was pretty much "This is what you get - so just like it". I admit there was much to like in every version. But, version after version, there were always a few things of which I was not fond. Thus, the day came when I wanted other options.

Silverlokk
Silverlokk

No, no, no!, OS X was, as I mentioned in my own post, based on the Mach microkernel. See this page for licensing.

Vulpinemac
Vulpinemac

First off, OS X has nothing to do with Linux; it's original core was based on BSD Unix which in itself was based on that Mach kernel. However, OS X is a certified UNIX in and of itself and has been for some years now. Yes, some of that UNIX is open source, but the GUI riding on top of it is totally proprietary, which obviously confuses some people.

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