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Jumping In

A number of companies have jumped into open source, some of them basing their businesses entirely on it, such as Red Hat, VA Software, and CollabNet, but many more have started open-source projects both inside and outside their corporate firewalls. Among the larger or more widely known companies using open source as part of their business strategies are General Electric (GE), Sun Microsystems, IBM, Apple, Hewlett-Packard (HP), SGI, Oracle, Cisco, Intel, and Symbian.

Apple is an interesting example because it is not generally known as embracing open source but is thought of as being a highly proprietary company from its earlier years. Apple's OS X is based on Darwin, which is an open-source project. Here is what Apple's developer website says about it:

Apple's open source projects allow developers to customize and enhance key Apple software. Through the open source model, Apple engineers and the open source community collaborate to create better, faster and more reliable products for our users.

Beneath the appealing, easy-to-use interface of Mac OS X is a rock-solid foundation that is engineered for stability, reliability, and performance. This foundation is a core operating system commonly known as Darwin. Darwin integrates a number of technologies, most importantly Mach 3.0, operating-system services based on 4.4BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution), high-performance networking facilities, and support for multiple integrated file systems.1

However, an important part of this strategy is hidden. Because Darwin is one of the Unix family of operating systems, a fair number of other open-source packages happen to work on the platform, which helps Apple dramatically because the Macintosh platform is regarded as hosting relatively few applications. Even though the current crop of open-source Unix applications is not especially appealing for businesses per se, they are appealing to the scientific and engineering communities, which are well represented in the business sector, and as Linux makes inroads into the server and client markets, the application base for OS X can only get better.

For example, there is an open-source project called Fink dedicated to bringing some of the open-source Unix programs to Darwin:

The Fink project wants to bring the full world of Unix Open Source software to Darwin and Mac OS X. We modify Unix software so that it compiles and runs on Mac OS X ("port" it) and make it available for download as a coherent distribution.2

There are currently about 3500 packages in the Fink project. The packages by and large are not integrated into the full Aqua user interface, but they do provide significant functionality to the platform.

Innovation Happens Elsewhere
Ron Goldman & Richard P. Gabriel
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