Open source and Apple: The nagging nausea

Open source and Apple: The nagging nausea
Credit: UCLA

Apple may be the polar opposite of open source's values, but open source activists sure love their Apple products

Open source software fans hate walled gardens. After all, they believe in communities supporting each other for the greater good. Sure, they fight over the details and who gets the most support, but that's part of what it means to be a creator, an owner, a participant in both the journey and the final result.

Thus, it's common to hear OSS fans sneer at Apple, the antithesis of the community approach. Apple works in deep secrecy, even within the company. Suggestions and input are rarely acknowledged. Everything is highly controlled -- you must join the Apple cult and follow what its secretive, undemocratic leaders have decreed to really use what the company offers.

Which leads us to the irony in a recent survey of 111 OSS contributors and/or users by Eldarion, an application development agency active in the open source community. This admittedly unscientific but certainly grassroots survey was conducted in another walled garden, the one known as Twitter.

The survey showed that 72 percent of those who both use and contribute to open source use at least one Apple product, 57 percent use an iPhone, and 65 percent use OS X. Apple products beat Microsoft, Google, and open source products across the board. At 22 percent, Linux beat Windows (which scored only 8 percent), if not OS X. Android, whose development is not open but its final code is open-sourced, came in at 38 percent.

The high Apple usage doesn't reflect any love for Apple. The survey showed that the respondents saw both Apple and Microsoft as equally unfriendly to open source.

But why do open source contributions and users favor Apple products over open source products like Linux and Android? The obvious answer is that these are developers, and the MacBook Pro has become the de facto standard for development these days, likely because it is required to develop for OS X and iOS. Plus, it can run Windows and Linux in virtual machines, as well as Unix natively. Apple may not be open-source-friendly, but its Mac is the most open to all major OSes. That matters to a developer.

Of course, that doesn't explain the high iPhone usage, especially versus Android. I'll chalk that up (as well as the high Mac usage) to developers' more sophisticated technological palates. Anyone who lives in Silicon Valley knows that T-shirted, scruffy developers love fine wines, microbrewed beer, fancy organic meals, status-confirming cars, and all sort of exotic toys. Apple's products fit that taste profile quite well.

But in the spirit of open source, I involved my little community at InfoWorld, specifically two who are at time developers themselves and travel in the open source world: Senior Editor Jason Snyder and Senior Writer Serdar Yegulalp.


I'm going to guess that this is predominantly MacBook Pros for development, as that seems to be the vast norm these days.
Of course, I'm also of the mind that one can "loathe" a company for various reasons and still use one of its products -- which may be the real story here; the sticky business of being both a producer and consumer in a capitalist society. 
I don't have any data to back this up, but I wouldn't be surprised if anti-Apple sentiments still pervade open source communities -- App Store walled garden issues, etc. -- but my guess is folks know they aren't going to change Apple, so they live with it. Like maybe a nagging, background nausea, rather than foment.


Whenever I see roomfuls of developers at some open-source-related convention, they're almost inevitably using MacBooks. They may complain about the experience or the cost, but for the most part they seem fine using something that's Unix-y under the hood.
The impression I get is that OSS developers don't bother with the parts of the Apple world that are superclosed anyway (e.g., the App Store); they take what's useful to them and leave the rest.
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