by Swapnil Bhartiya

In a Swift move, open source & Linux took center stage at Apple’s WWDC 2015

Jun 09, 2015
LinuxOpen SourceSoftware Development

We are witnessing a major shift in the tech industry.

Following the public display of love for Linux by Microsoft and “open sourcing” of .NET, now Apple is also doing something similar.

Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering said during his WWDC 2015 keynote, “We think Swift is the next big programming language. The one we will all be doing applications and systems programing on for 20 years to come. And we think Swift should be everywhere and used by everyone. And so we are going to be doing something really big. Today we’re announcing that Swift will be open source.”

The announcement was greeted with a huge round of applause from the audience.

Federighi (who is undoubtedly one of the most entertaining Apple presenters) had more surprises in store. He then shocked us by saying, “We will be rolling out the compiler and standard libraries for iOS, OSX and Linux.”

Yes, he did say Linux. It’s exciting to see the words Linux and Open Source at the grand stage of an Apple event. It’s certainly a sea change in the market.

The company said in a blog post that Swift will be released under an OSI-approved permissive license. Source code will include the Swift compiler and standard library. While GNU GPL is also an OSI approved license, I doubt Apple would choose that one; my wild guess is it would be BSD or Apache license.

Simon Phipps the former director of OSI was cautious about it and told me, “While every additional piece of open source software extends the opportunities for software freedom, the critical question for a programming language is less whether it is itself open source and more whether it’s feasible to make open source software with it. Programming languages are glue for SDKs, APIs and libraries. The real value of Swift will be whether it can realistically be used anywhere but Apple’s walled garden.”

Jim Zemlin, Executive Director of The Linux Foundation congratulated Apple on this important move and said, “This is a smart move for Apple and a big win for the developer community. Apple has long valued developers, but this week adopted a key strategy that has become the defacto approach to programming languages: open source.”

He further added, “It’s inspiring to see companies like Apple and Microsoft validate the work we’ve been doing for more than two decades. As we move deeper into the complexities of the Internet of Things (IoT), mobile computing and automotive technologies (key battlefields in tech), Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Amazon, Google and many others look to open source software to advance innovation in these areas. Equipping the developer community with what it needs is the right way to go.”

When I asked Eric S Raymond, the author of The Cathedral and the Bazaar and renowned open source developer, he said, “I am generally in favor of anyone open sourcing anything, but know nothing about this case so can’t judge its relative importance well.”

The good news is, unlike a few open source projects, Swift development will have community involvement. Apple said in a blog post that “contributions from the community will be accepted — and encouraged.”

That’s a smart move by Apple because it’s not just the community that will benefit from the open sourcing of Swift. In fact, Apple will be the biggest beneficiary. No software is free of bugs and Swift is no exception. The community contribution will help Apple in finding and fixing the bugs in the language and make it even better.

Open Source is a win-win model and Apple has made ‘Swift’ but right moves.