Opinion: Release Classic as open source


Steve Jobs opened his keynote address by performing a short skit wherein he formally laid OS 9 to rest. With a casket as a prop, some appropriately dark music and his usual costuming (black turtle neck), Jobs' message couldn't have been more clear -- OS 9 is dead.

Now, this is probably not quite true given a number of obvious loose ends with the OS (not mention rumors of OS 9.5 languishing in the dungeons at 1 Infinite Loop) and the simple fact that thousands will be loathe to give it up. But old and crippled though it may be OS 9 is for the moment "snappier" than X, has more immediately apparent bells and whistles, and there are over 10,000 apps available versus the 3,000 odd programs available for X.

Jaguar will change much of this. Although I'm somewhat skeptical of Quartz Extreme given how much the Finder and 2D performance needs to improve, the new features sound pretty neat and I'm looking forward to getting even more out of X.

For some people, like those who have put thousands into their Color Classics and PB 2400s, the Classic OS in its rainbow of incarnations will always be the best that's ever been. These people won't change no matter what and there are potentially millions of them.

By the numbers

Jobs reportedly told keynote attendees that 1 million were using X at the year's outset and that the company expects 5 million to be using the OS by the end of the year -- that's about 20 percent of the company's user base. Let's assume X users will increase by another 20 to 30 percent in 2003. This still leaves millions using Classic in 2004 and 2005.

I'll posit that eight to 10 million won't make the move to X for five years. Of these perhaps three or four million will never migrate to X -- some will use Classic until they die and others will switch platforms rather give another penny to Apple the betrayer. Why? For some it's a matter of habit. For others it's a matter of religious rectitude. Suffice it to say though that there are thousands of people still using Amigas. Hell, there are people using tape-driven Ataris and Commodores.

With such people in mind, I propose that Apple should -- with proper consideration given to their intellectual property rights -- open source Classic. Piece by piece Cupertino should release its back catalog operating systems to the public under GPL or some variant thereof, and let the luddites be luddites.

True, they are still being cut loose. With Classic license as open source, however, the responsibility for the luddites will be responsible for their own misery. They will be left to evolve "naturally" and won't have a leg to stand on when complaining.

Getting some distance and mileage

Microsoft's closed, acquisitive and anti-competitive business practices -- egregious abuse by egregious abuse -- are being dutifully enumerated in the press. Policy makers and the public finally seem to catching on although it will likely be years more before this convicted monopolist gets what it deserves.

What's the relevance? Open source, for better and worse, is gaining currency. European nations -- the UK in particular -- are using Linux as hammer to wring concessions from Redmond. Lacking concessions, Linux is a real alternative. It appears that Latin Americans have realized this and are dumping M$ products, for reasons political and economic, en masse.

OS X' roots are firmly planted in open source (BSD, Darwin) and the plaform's future health is in part tied to the vitality of open source. M$ is against open source. M$ is being punished by the marketplace for its obdurance on this point. M$ will also be punished for its past and current business practices.

Apple should politely put distance between itself and the convict in waiting. Apple should also get as much mileage from its open source credentials as possible. One way of doing this is by opening Classic to the public.

Cupertino already has a proven track record of using limited open source licensing to its benefit. It shouldn't be a problem for the company to create a license that ammelioriates open source zealots and still protect its IPR and insure it benefits from any development that might occur.

"Giving away the farm to protect the crops" in this case will have the added benefit of silencing Classic holdouts and platform zealots. I dont' see a downside, do you? Let us know what you think.