Apple makes OS X Server open source

In an effort to capture some of the "open-source" momentum, Apple Computer Inc. Tuesday became the first mainstream computer company to open up its operating system core.

The company said it would release its OS X Server microkernel, called Mach, when it begins shipping the software. "This will help us improve it, make it the best product that collectively we all know how to make," said Apple interim Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs.

The open source portion of the OS, which is available for download now at Apple.com, will contain Apple's version of Apache server technology, Berkeley Software Distribution 4.4 and the Mach microkernel, which was originally developed by a team at Carnegie Mellon University lead by Avie Tevanian, who now runs software operations at Apple. Developers can alter the kernel in any way they wish -- including making it Windows compatible -- as long as they make their changes public. The open-source movement refers to software such as Linux, which allows developers to freely add their own features on top of underlying technology. Open-source is a threat to companies including Microsoft, who consider their software code the company's life's blood, to be protected at all cost.

Jobs was joined on stage by open-source advocates including Eric Raymond, who wrote "The Cathedral and the Bazaar," the white paper that prompted Netscape Communications Corp. to make its browser code public. "We see that Apple really gets it," Raymond said, adding that he hopes the move will encourage other operating system makers to join the open-source movement, "so eventually it will all be free." The company is also considering open-source plans for other products, possibly including the newest Macintosh operating system, OS X, due later this year. But Jobs would not disclose those plans.

Chris LeTocq, a software analyst at Gartner Group, said the boost from the open-source movement will help Apple. "I don't think it hurts Apple to gain some of that attention for what they've been doing." LeTocq said the OS X server would most appeal to Apple's existing market, especially education, offering them an alternative server so they can stay with Apple.

The company also said it would slash the price of OS X server in half, to $499 (£304). Apple announced the product in January, pricing it at $999.

The announcement represents a major upgrade of Apple's OS software, combining elements found in the current Mac OS with those from the OpenStep software acquired when the company bought Jobs' NeXT Software Inc. three years ago.

But even Jobs acknowledged the company was taking baby steps into the server space. "This is Apple's first modern server OS that we've ever shipped," Jobs said. "We're going to start by taking a step at a time and not lose our humility as we enter the grown-up server world."