Steve Jobs: an open source pioneer? You bet

Steve Jobs: an early open source pioneer? You bet. Mac OSX is based on Darwin, an open source OS made available by Apple in 2000 that incorporated code from NextStep, BSD and other free software projects, Wikipedia notes. Darwin still lives on in the form of PureDarwin and other derivatives.

One wouldn't think of Apple's Steve Jobs as an open source pioneer.

But he was.

Apple's 10-year-old Mac OS X is a closed source operating system with open source components.

It is based in part on Darwin, an open source OS originally developed by Apple in 2000 which incorporates code from Jobs' NextStep, BSD and other free software, according to Wikipedia.  The BSD code in MacOSX, for example, includes the process model, network stack, and virtual file system, the web encyclopedia also notes.

Here's how Wikipedia describes Darwin's open source nature:

"Darwin's heritage began with Next's NextSTEP operating system,  first released in 1989. After Apple bought NeXT in 1997, it announced it would base its next operating system on OPENSTEP. This was developed into Rhapsody in 1997 and the Rhapsody-based Mac OS X Server 1.0 in 1999. In 2000, Rhapsody was forked into Darwin and released as open-source software under the Apple Public Source License (APSL), and components from Darwin are present in Mac OS X today."

In July 2003, Apple released Darwin under version 2.0 of the Apple Public Source License (APSL), which the Free Software Foundation (FSF) approved as a free software license. Previous releases had taken place under an earlier version of the APSL that did not meet the FSF's definition of free software, although it met the requirements of the Open Source Definition.

OF course, most of the core attributes of Mac OSX and iOS are proprietary and no one would lump it in the open source category.

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Efforts by Apple to engage the open source community in the development of Mac OSX essentially failed.

The OpenDarwin project, for example, founded by Apple and Internet Systems Consortium in 2002 in an attempt to unify open source programmers and Apple, shut down four years later.

But Darwin the open source operating system is still kicking. There are other Darwin derivates out there, including PureDarwin, an open source OS launched in 2007 that is based on Darwin that incorporates X11, DTrace and ZFS.

As noted by Wikipedia, "parts of NeXT's software became the foundation for Mac OSX, which, together with iOS, is among the most commercially successful BSD variants in the general market."

Mac OSX is not one of those BSDs that is generally available and open source, and nor is it likely ever to be.

But Steve Jobs' early use of BSD and development of Darwin were key endorsements of the open source project concept and the open source development model that tilted public and programmers' opinion in favor of open source.

Jobs was perhaps the earliest, most influential technologist in the world to give open source a nod, and the open source community can be grateful for that.