OpenDarwin Dies a Lonely Death

by Devanshu Mehta Jul 27, 2006

It is a sad day for two communities today—the Apple community and the open source community. The OpenDarwin Core Team announced this week, on their mailing list and on their web site that the project is shutting down.

For those unfamiliar with OpenDarwin, it was created four years ago with the goal of guiding the development of open source software for the Mac OS X and to develop a standalone Darwin OS derivative. Mac OS X is based on the BSD Unix-like Darwin OS, and these Unix roots have proven to be a tremendous draw for programmers and power users. At one point, OpenDarwin was the place to start your search for open source applications ported for the Mac.

In recent times, however, the projected had dwindled down to simply a place that hosted many cool open source software projects. This was no where near the original goal of the project and there are clearly many alternatives for hosting a project.

The team cites many contributing factors to the final demise such as an availability of resource, discussions with Apple, the difficulty in building and tracking sources and—most interestingly—lack of interest from the community.

Since the move to the Intel platform, Apple has been less forthcoming with support for the open source community. In February, long time Darwin/Apple open source developer Rob Braun wrote the following:

With the release of Mac OS X for x86 processors, Apple has chosen to not release source to key components of the OS, such as the kernel and all drivers. This means Darwin/x86 is dead in the water; Darwin/ppc has many closed source components and is a deprecated architecture. One has to wonder why Apple even bothers to release non-GPL’d source at all, if it is unwilling to cooperate with external developers to increase their return on investment and accept external bug fixes and features. Even worse, one has to wonder why people would want to donate their time to such a fruitless and pointless cause.

The signs were already there and a transition was inevitable. What is all the more sad about the demise is that there was a lack of community support during the final years of the project which must have hindered the motivation to continue.

Of course, it will not be a sudden death. All the project administrators have been notified and the servers will remain alive for as long as it takes for each project to find a new home. But a new home must be found. The list of projects is quite long and impressive- one hopes many of not be hindered by the move. The one project hosted at that I am really interested in seeing succeed is Darwine which is working on allowing Windows applications to run under OS X without installing the actual operating system. This would be a tremendous development- one that has been rumored to be part of the Mac OS 10.5 release, but not confirmed. Also, the DarwinPorts project has said it will not have a problem making it through as it attracts of interest in the community and has an independent development team.

In any case, while not entirely unexpected, this is a disappointing move for open source enthusiasts. The idea of having a completely open source version of Darwin OS to install and play with was a powerful one. Hopefully, some group of developers in the future- with the necessary support of Apple- will revive the cause. It will take a lot more effort, though, without the team and infrastructure of OpenDarwin.


  • Now that OSX has been ported over to the x86 platform in earnest, the “open source” hook that is Darwin/BSD Unix is no longer there.

    Great open source projects such as MySQL, Apache, Linux, etc. will always support the native OSX layers, just as they do now. Killing OpenDarwin will not stop these heroic developers from their mission cross-platform gratuities.

    If you glance over, you should see Linux open-source devs eager to move in where OpenDarwin once dreamed of treading. All Macs will be x86, after all, by the end of this year. Therefore, Macs will inherit most, if not all, open-source projects on the x86. So, do we really need OpenDarwin now that the Mac architecture is no longer PPC?

    Another, this move can only hurt Apple’s innovators since most of the bubbling of innovations these days come from freelancers that graciously volunteer their “off-time” professional knowledge at home. Now, Apple has to rely on their current staffing of a few thousand whereas the open-source community numbers in the hundreds of thousands, sometimes in the millions.

    So, will it hurt OSX in the short run? I doubt that will be the case since the project team leaders have their hands full with ideas gained from OpenDarwin and elsewhere.

    Will it hurt OSX in the long run? I think so. The momentum of OSX in introducing many innovations every momentous releases (10.x) will begin to slow in around 10.7 or 10.8 releases. This will be M$‘s chance to catch up in Vista or a completely new OS that will have emulation of prior M$ OS’s, not unlike the “thunking” method of Win95 with DOS programs, or virtualization.

    That will be a disaster-in-the-making for Mac faithfuls abound alright. I can never envision M$ catching up to Apple in OS innovation but Apple just started shooting themselves in the foot with this foolish action.

    Let’s just hope this is not the end of OpenDarwin but another transition to a better, more “open” community collaboration project with Apple’s innovators.

    Robomac had this to say on Jul 27, 2006 Posts: 846
  • OpenDarwin had really nothing to do with Apple’s open Darwin program, and contributed nothing but noise to open source development on the Mac platform.

    All they did was copy Apple’s Darwin repository of files, declare that their duplicate copy was being offered under the GPL, and make a lot of noise and hot air about how Apple should either copy them or support their efforts to create an alternative Darwin distro.

    Unfortunately, nobody needed a GPL version of Apple’s source code, because Apple’s open source isn’t run the same way, or for the same purpose, as other Linux distros or OSS projects.

    “OpenDarwin” was simply the brainstorm of a GPL advocate that was browbeating Apple with a worn out political ideology, while trying to resell Apple’s free software.

    It offered nothing of value to anybody, so it eventually ran out of steam. We don’t need to weep for it. I wrote about Apple & OSS in:

    Open Source Values and the Peanut Gallery

    The value proposition involved in choosing an open source strategy, and a roast of the emerging peanut gallery who are attempting to hijack and betray the free software movement.

    BSD and GPL: Different Sources for Different Horses

    The benefits and the motivations behind two very different styles of open source development: the BSD style license, pioneered by UC Berkeley and MIT; and the GPL invented by Richard Stallman, the founder of the free software movement.

    OpenDarwin also has nothing to do with Apple’s withholding of the Darwin kernel for x86 on new Intel Macs.

    The ‘Mac OS X Closed by Pirates’ Myth

    According to the proponents of this myth, Apple has abandoned their open source initiatives as they move to Intel, because they are afraid that, armed with the Darwin source code, pirate 3lit3 haxx0rs will p0wn them and have Mac OS X running on generic PCs. They’re wrong, here’s why.

    Daniel Dilger had this to say on Jul 27, 2006 Posts: 4
  • I’ve been watching the Open Darwin project since 2001 when I first got an iBook, I even tried installing it and setting up a couple servers on Darwin only many moons ago…

    in the end, after geting my hands dirty, my conclusion is the marketing team at Apple quit caring if the public sees them just like Microsoft, and Apple has accepted that it follows the same practices as MS.

    whodisbe had this to say on Jul 27, 2006 Posts: 6
  • Daniel, back on January 11, you wrote:

    > If you want another source independent
    > from Apple, here it is:
    > Maybe this will help to educate you a bit on
    > precisely how open Apple truly is—not bad for
    > a Fortune 500 corporation.

    On July 27 (above), you wrote:

    > [OpenDarwin] offered nothing of value to
    > anybody, so it eventually ran out of steam.

    I’m unable to reconcile these two statements - either OpenDarwin demonstrated Apple’s openness such that I should consider it the equivalent of Linux (in terms of freedom) and switch, or it was totally worthless.

    Could you clarify which?

    This isn’t intended as a flame; when I read of OpenDarwin’s death, I immediately recalled our earlier discussion, and sought out AppleMatters specifically to request your perspective.  It was already written here. I just can’t understand what you wrote, unless you had a change of heart since January.

    Thanks in advance for any insight.

    George F. Rice had this to say on Jul 28, 2006 Posts: 25
  • In response to “Apple Wins” by Cookie Monster… I don’t understand what you are saying. I mean, I understand what you are saying, but I don’t understand what that has to do with Open Darwin shutting down?
    Anti Wrinkle

    alice had this to say on Feb 04, 2011 Posts: 1
  • Stride Rite Coupons is my best way to save money.

    Jack had this to say on Nov 09, 2011 Posts: 36
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