OpenDarwin Dies a Lonely Death
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 OpenDarwin.org 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.