Open source development surges for Android and, surprisingly, iOS

Android's openness and growing popularity is attracting mobile developers to the platform, says a Black Duck VP

Open source developers launched 15,000 Android mobile projects in 2012, representing a 96 percent increase over 2011. By contrast, iOS developers launched nearly 2,500 open source projects for Apple's mobile platform, a 32 percent increase year over year, which isn't half bad when you consider that the Apple App Store isn't particularly friendly for open source (Apple is trying to shift that perception).

Those numbers, culled from the open source repository Black Duck Knowledge Base and open source directory, should be heartening to open source advocates, who have lamented that open source has failed to penetrate the mainstream desktop. That tide is changing in the post-PC era as organizations across a slew of industries are hungry for quick access to low-cost mobile software.

Open source development surges for Android and, surprisingly, iOS

"As the growth of open source has continued to evolve and shape attitudes toward the commercial value of software, it has begun to fundamentally alter a variety of software markets," said Stephen O'Grady principal analyst with RedMonk. "Black Duck's data on mobile OSS growth is yet more evidence of this."

All told, 2012 ended with a total of more than 28,000 open source Android projects in the Black Duck Knowledge Base and more than 7,000 such projects for iOS. All other mobile platforms accounted for fewer than 500 new projects in 2012, for a total of fewer than 2,000 projects since 2007.

In a brief Q&A with InfoWorld, Peter Vescuso, executive VP of marketing and business development at Black Duck, provided some insight as to why open source development for mobile continues to soar.

InfoWorld: To what do you attribute the surge in OS development for mobile in general?

Vescuso: Google, Android, and open source have revolutionized the mobile industry. Even the iPhone is built on open source (Safari, iOS, etc.). As Android takes off and volumes grow, development in mobile grows in interest for the open source development community.

IW: Why are OS developers specifically targeting Android instead of iOS?

Vescuso: "Volume" is the short answer, which equals opportunity. In 2010, iOS represented 34 percent of all new open source projects: It was new(er), hot, and developers targeted it. That iOS share has dropped to 14 percent in 2012. According to Gartner, Android will outship iOS by a factor of 300 percent in 2013 and going forward.

I think it's both the fact that Android is open source, plus the volume it's driving, that attracts developers. The App Store imposes terms and conditions on software that moves through it, which makes it incompatible with reciprocal licenses like the GPL.

IW: How might Apple's lack of support for open source hurt the company down the road (if at all)?

Vescuso: Apple does support open source. However unlike Google, Apple does not have a proactive open source community strategy. As Android and mobile OSS volume accelerates, it will inevitably drive new innovations that will benefit open source platforms.

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