Apple needs to contribute more to Open Source and Free Software

by Jeremiah Foster

With the news that OpenBSD, which maintains and develops OpenSSH, is struggling with financial problems, it has become clear that Free Software needs more than just the support of users and developers. Free Software needs the financial contribution of corporations such as Apple that use Free Software and software licensed under the GPL.

16 Comments

Xcider
2006-03-29 03:21:33
Perfectly agree !
Sam
2006-03-29 07:38:46
"What Apple, [...], do[es] not do is contribute resources to the OpenSSH project, and Free Software in general, proportionate to their use of Free Software."


How are you measuring this? What do you consider "proportional"? And what does "Free" mean to you?


My guess is that a huge number of bugfixes, security updates, developers and other attention has come to these projects through Apple's use of them, which is all an open source project can really ask for. You don't need to look much further than WebKit, Darwin, and related projects to reap the benefits of Apple's open source foundations.

Brian
2006-03-29 07:49:29
I suppose this is the fundamental problem with the "Free as in beer" aspect of free as in speach software. Giving your hard work away and hoping to survive on the kindness of strangers and their donations is a sure path to economic failure. Even the wildly successful projects such as Linux, Apache, and the FSF base of utilities (GCC/shell/etc) bring in a pitance of revenue and even then not often for the authors themselves. Read the cash flow statement for Red Hat or any other publicly traded Linux focused company, then read the cash flow statement for any of the top commercial software houses. It's painfully obvious that giving it away for free doesn't benefit the author except for some bragging rights. Last time I checked, bragging rights didn't pay the mortgage.
314eyed
2006-03-29 08:04:41
Boo Hoo! Cry me a river!! What a bunch of whining!


The reality is that companies are beholden to their shareholders, and pouring money into OpenSSH has to be shown to provide ROI for the shareholders.


You don't actually believe that IBM spends money on OSS because it buys into the philosophy/religion? At the same time they continue to be the largest software patenter in the world? No, IBM sees OSS as a way to kick start competition with MSFT, not by selling software, but by providing services.


The reality is that companies are amoral: they have no guilt, no shame, no honor. And I don't expect them to.


So to write an op-ed that says "waahhhh, Apple's not playing fair" like a child sitting in the playground is simply absurd.


When you offer up code under the BSD license, you are essentially saying "here, go use this, just give me a little credit, and don't sue me".


You should have no illusions that takers of the code will do anything more.

TG
2006-03-29 08:45:02
I would think it would be a justifiable business expense to ensure projects such as OBSD (which provides OpenSSH) remain viable, as developing or maintaining that codebase in-house by Apple would surely be more costly, no?


But as 314 points out (in straightforward fashion), companies ain't gonna cough up cash cause they feel guilty or it's the "right thing to do". Google too I suspect, no matter what their motto is. This situation though appears to have a financial justification -- or perhaps Apple thinks Cisco or someone else would maintain the code if OBSD went belly-up and it's a tragedy of the commons situation?

Trevor
2006-03-29 09:36:21
"Boo Hoo! Cry me a river!! What a bunch of whining! The reality is that companies are beholden to their shareholders, and pouring money into OpenSSH has to be shown to provide ROI for the shareholders."


But these same shareholders have already received an ROI from Apple thanks to Mac OS X, which owes much of its popularity and success to many open-source projects upon which it is built: Safari and the OS itself are probably the two most significant. If these shareholders don't support open-source projects that Apple depends on (or may depend on later), then they're at risk of throwing away future ROI. For that reason, supporting open-source projects should make a lot of sense to Apple's shareholders. (They should think of it like an R&D expenditure.)

Travis
2006-03-29 09:46:36
OpenBSD in particular has a problem because its main developer, Theo de Raadt, has gone out of his way to antagonize and alienate people - even other folks in the free software community dislike and distrust the guy. Red Hat has gone so far as to start maintaining their own fork of OpenSSH.


I don't disagree with the premise of Jeremiah's blog entry; but if OpenBSD dies, OpenSSH will get along just fine without it. That's the beauty (and, perhaps, some would say the weakness) of free software. I have no doubt that the major players would at that point pull together and set up a plan for keeping OpenSSH moving forward.


James Kielland
2006-03-29 09:47:29
I agree with Trevor. It's not about what Apple "should" do in order to satisfy some specific subjective moral notions; it's about an investment in self-interest. Simply put, Apple would benefit from further vibrancy in the BSD world. The more BSD is accepted and the more BSD experts there are, the more attractive OS X becomes.
JulesLt
2006-03-29 11:43:58
From where I'm sitting - Apple seem quite happy to contribute back, and have given jobs to many people in the BSD community, but it seems mostly from the FreeBSD pool.


What we have with OpenBSD and OpenSSH is 'contribute to OpenBSD or OpenSSH will die' - which doesn't make sense for Apple or IBM who have no interest in OpenBSD.


What they should do is turn OpenSSH more into a business along the well-trodden path of MySQL, JBoss, Red Hat, and other vendors, then use that business to fund the 'OpenBSD Foundation' (which again, is a not uncommon setup with commercial Open Source).


Otherwise you're basically saying that if any company uses project A from an open source vendor, they should contribute to every other whimsical venture that vendor might be getting up to. OpenSSH is just one component of Darwin - who knows what some of the other guys are up to.

Andrew Stone
2006-03-29 12:19:05
Well said Jeremiah.


Hopefully, some of the BSD folks at Apple will read this and send it up through the corporate pipeline at Apple to be acted upon. Apple has contributed to Open Source in many ways over the past few years.


The financial crisis presently occurring with the OpenSSH project shows how companies such as Apple should be leaders in this by providing a financial infusion into this project. I am sure they can easily develop a business case to support this without breaking a sweat.

doug Petrosky
2006-03-29 18:50:13
I have to say I'm on the get over it side. The way open source works is that everyone has to inovate all the time. Apple constantly adds to BSD and KHTML, etc and documents it's changes so that others who use these projects can benefit from their work. The open source community can't ask for more.


Someone mentioned the books for Red Hat as an example of how Open source is not a big money maker.....Excuse me? I doubt that Red Hat has done as much for Linux as apple has done for BSD. The whole design of Open Source ensures that no project can die because any company or individual can continue to use it regardless of what some parent company does.


OpenSSH will be fine.

Simon Phipps
2006-03-29 20:22:07
Sun [does not] contribute resources to ... Free Software in general, proportionate to their use of Free Software

Excuse me? Sun is constantly contributing what really matters - developers - throughout the world of Free and Open Source software. I know this personally, I run the programme responsible for it. Historically Sun contributed the accessibility code to GNOME; internationalisation to Mozilla; works on X.org, on Perl, and on so much more. Sun also donates hardware widely and willingly, has released Unix under an open source license, and is in the process of releasing the rest of its portfolio under open source licenses. Sun can't contribute to everything (who can?), but you're allowing your assumptions (or, perhaps, prejudices considering who you lump Sun with)to run away with you here.

Simon Phipps
2006-03-29 20:35:29
Other companies, like Sun, use OpenSSH to develop various programs and functionality for their respective operating systems.

Actually, the SSH in Solaris 10 is not actively derived from OpenSSH these days. It was forked from OpenSSH in 2001 for good reasons. The Solaris developers tell me they have tried to contribute code but were unable to get their contributions integrated back, and ever since it has been developed and maintained independently (although new OpenSSH features have been re-implemented in Solaris SSH for the sake of customers expecting compatibility). As I research the matter I'm uncovering a good deal of historic bad blood involved that I am reluctant to revisit publicly, but you shouldn't take the repeated negativity about Sun in this specific connection at face value, nor the assertions that Sun does not contribute (Sun has donated hardware too).

Jeremiah Foster
2006-03-29 20:56:05
Thanks for the comments everyone, I really appreciate them. I would like to expand on some of them if I might.


Firstly to Mr. Phipps' reply. While Sun has realized that Free Software is here to stay, they have failed to support the movement's licensing policies. Java is not Free Software. Even worse, a quick look at the code repository for Sun's version of SSH reveals that it is based entirely on OpenSSH. See for yourself here: http://cvs.opensolaris.org/source/xref/on/usr/src/cmd/ssh/ssh/ssh.c


I think this amply illustrates my premise that Free Software needs more than just users and developers, it needs cash to support the hardware and bandwidth needs of various projects. This money is a pittance to what Sun has made off of SunSSH.


Second, there are many business models that use Free Software and the GPL, in fact making money from Free Software is explicitly allowed. A quick glance at Nasdaq shows us Red Hat trading as RHAT at 28 dollars a share. Operating revenue was nearly 200 million US dollars in 2005 at 25% profit margin. Red Hat has a billion dollars in cash on hand. Not a bad business model I would say.


Lastly, I point out that what the aforementioned companies need is an alternative ecosystem. That is to say, they need developers too, just like Microsoft. But they need developers who use Emacs, who care about security, who can code in C not in VisualBasic 95 or whatever it is. Apple and Sun rely on people to use, test, and even contribute code. Look at FreeBSD, JBoss, the list is long.


Free Software as a disruptive technolgy is the only real alternative to the Microsoft operating system monolpoly we live with today. Companies that are not Microsoft should recognize this and provide Free Software developers with the means to write more code.

decem
2006-03-30 03:14:07
Perhaps the problem isn't Apple using OpenSSH (or other open source) so much as the lack of Mac users who contribute financially to OSS projects even though they benefit from those projects. But I wonder how many individual Linux/Windows/BSD users really cough up much to support OSS?
MasterofMind
2007-02-19 18:22:44
I think corporations should pay if they use it or at least donate some hardware. Sure it's free software but these guys aren't making a profit, that's not even what they are seeking. They simply want to cover expenses. It probably would be nice if they had extra cash for their effort. Sounds like to me SSH is very important a big contribution. What happens if openbsd disappears. What if they would have come up with more good code? All that will be missed due to greed. I think almost everyone should donate to open source software, even it's $10. If you can afford to donate great if you can't that's fine.


Apple is a greedy company and that will probably never change. You don't see the guys complaining they don't get enough donations so stop crying about it.