Playing on Apples past “Switch” ad campaign, which was aimed at getting Windows users to migrate to Apples Mac OS X-based computers, a few longtime Mac and open-source gurus are vocally publicizing their switch away from Apples platform to more open-source solutions.
Though the practical impact is impossible to gauge, their arguments have been making waves.
The first was Mark Pilgrim, who wrote free software for the Mac in the mid-1990s.
He is involved with various current open-source projects, was a certified Mac OS X trainer and has written about Web site accessibility and scripting.
In a post on his blog, Pilgrim wrote that though he has long been impressed by Apples hardware and software, he thought that the latter had grown less attractive and more “restrictive,” leading him to seek alternatives.
Pilgrim wrote that he regretted that Apples software, including the operating system, was not open-source (Pilgrim has published software under the GNU GPL [General Public License]; the license states that software published under it includes the source code, which users can modify to their liking as long as they document the changes.)
He noted that most applications he uses are so open—”Why keep running them on an operating system that costs money and restricts my rights and my usage?”
Part of Mac OS X is already open-source.
Darwin, the Unix foundations of the operating system, is available under the APSL (Apple Public Source License), a free software license.
The APSL is not compatible with the GPL, however, because it does not force developers using it to release their software for free. And no other part of Mac OS X, from its user interface layer to the applications (and their file formats), is open source.
Pilgrims argument was that non-open software often ties user data to a proprietary file format.
In the case of something going wrong, even an experienced user may find it impossible to fix the problem.
Loss of Data
Pilgrim says he was bitten by this. He wrote that the databases behind Apples iPhoto and iTunes became corrupted, resulting in the loss of much of his data.
In addition, he wrote, proprietary formats offer no guarantee for future access to data.
For example, a text document saved to a proprietary format may not be useable by future versions of the software that originally created it, and users might not be able to look into the file format and retrieve the text.
“Im creating things now that I want to be able to read, hear, watch, search, and filter 50 years from now,” Pilgrim wrote.
John Gruber, a Web developer, wrote a reply on his own site, Daring Fireball.
“A decision about what operating system you want to use involves so many different factors that it inevitably comes down to you, as an individual,” Gruber told eWEEK.
“Someone like Mark Pilgrim, who is an expert Emacs user, is much more likely to see Ubuntu as a reasonable alternative to Mac OS X than is someone who is an expert at Microsoft Word (or BBEdit, or anything else that runs on the Mac but does not run on Linux),” he added.
“And its not just about your personal taste in software; its about your personal priorities,” Gruber said.
“How much do you value genuine openness in the file formats used to store your data. How much do you care about the elegance of your computers user interface? There are hundreds of questions like this.”
“Two different people can reach two very different conclusions regarding which OS is better suited to their needs and tastes,” Gruber said.
Another notable in the computing world who said he could be “considering a switch” was Tim Bray.
Bray is currently the Director of Web Development for Sun Microsystems, and was one of the primary contributors to the XML and Atom open standards.
Bray wrote in his blog that he shared Pilgrims concerns, but said that he saw at the heart of the issue what he called “Apples paranoid communication culture.”
He used this term not only to refer to the closed nature of Apples (and Microsofts) software, but also Apples crackdown on bloggers who dealt in what Apple claimed were trade secrets.
“The contrast with the transparency weve achieved here at Sun could not be more striking,” he told eWEEK.
Bray said he shared Pilgrims concern over putting his data into proprietary formats.
“Apple seems to think its OK to take my information and lock it up in proprietary, undocumented, closed formats. I dont think thats acceptable ever, under any circumstances,” he said.
“Having said that,” he added, “I still think that OS X is an excellent operating system and vastly better than the Windows alternative for the vast majority of home and business users of personal computers. Whats new and different is that there is another horse in the race, and its gaining fast,” he said.
The “another horse” to which he referred is Ubuntu, a desktop and server Linux distribution with a focus on ease of setup and use.
In his blog post on switching, Bray noted that Linux still presents usability problems compared to Mac OS X.
He noted that some things, such as quick waking from sleep, Wi-Fi and connecting to projectors dont “just work” the way they do in Mac OS X.
Still, Bray said, he has seen other things that dont work reliably in Mac OS X, such as iCals data integrity.
And that these issues could be more readily resolved, in his mind, if Apple took a more open stance.
“I think [Apple] could address this situation by open-sourcing these apps, thus turning loose the communitys creativity, and could do so without risk, since the apps are inseparably tied to OS X,” he said.
“Failing that,” he added, “the quality of the productivity apps on the open and free alternatives, notably Ubuntu, has been increasing to the point where theyre very competitive with the Apple offerings.”
But Bray added that he knew it comes down to a matter of personal choice.
“Judging by the linkage and trackbacks Im seeing, the story has some momentum.”
According to Technorati, more than dozens of other blogs and Web sites have linked to or discussed Brays post.
“But I cant honestly say that Im seeing hundreds of people saying Me too,” he said.
Apple representatives were not available for comment.