back to article From messiah to pariah: The death of open source on mobile

Open source has gone from pariah to messiah in the past decade, but it has yet to find a place at the mobile table, and risks being rendered obsolete. Sure, it's not hard to find examples of open-source apps for iOS or Android, but the very premise of open source is under siege in the mobile world. Don't expect that to change …


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  1. Anonymous Coward


    This article is complete gibberish.

    How is the average user going to access the non-existent "Sourceforge App Store" on an iphone? Given that apple don't let you install from anywhere except their app store? Are you suggesting people jailbreak their iphones? As a workaround for Apple banning GPL apps?

    And where are these HTML5 apps that people are distributing? Is there any evidence AT ALL that people are buying cheap apps, because they're cheap, and that's somehow STOPPING THEM INSTALLING FREE APPS? Even if you take "free" to mean "open source"? If there is, I don't know where you see that evidence, and the article certainly doesn't make it clear.

    Why not run an article on whether unicorns are influencing people's choice of apps? With their pointy pointy horns and white skin, they've done more to turn the tide from open source to paid apps than just about anything I can arbitrarily invent when i've run out of ideas for articles.

    1. R 11

      Re: Huh?

      I imagine they would access the non-existant app store in the same way they would access the Amazon App Store that's already been announced, using an Android device.

      Or did you think only Apple's users buy and install applications from an online store?

    2. Aaron Em

      sacred cow: gored

      Yeah, actually, much as it might hurt the feelings of some, cheap-but-not-free App Store apps *can* stop people installing free apps -- if it takes fifteen minutes of finding, downloading, installing, configuring, and general screwing-around-with to get the free open-source stuff working, and if all it takes to get the App Store stuff working is half a minute and a couple of bucks, then why *shouldn't* anyone go with the App Store option?

      Especially since the App Store version has been pre-vetted to meet a user-interface standard; precisely whose standard that is is less important than the knowledge that there's *some* requirement being enforced, thus making it much less likely that I'll be subjected to the painfully-hard-to-use bizarrerie that results when developers are given free license to do whatever the hell they like with the user interface.

      (Granted, the standard might itself be crap; in most cases I still prefer a crap standard to no standard at all, because in the latter case you end up rooting through piles of dogshit in hopes of finding a diamond. If rhinestones are all I need, then I'd rather get rhinestones as a sure thing, rather than a chance of diamonds and a certainty of getting dogshit all over my hands.)

      As with Linux, so with most of the rest of open-source software in general: it's only "free" if your time has no value. (I'd add to that: and if you have no requirement with regard to quality.) That may not make a difference to hardcore open-source geeks, but here in the real world it sure as hell does; my clients pay me for doing their work, not for endless open-source fiddle-fuckery, and I can't honestly say that I blame them.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Thumb Down


        Free if your time has no value? I assume that you either work for MSFT or haven't seen Linux, LibreOffice, etc. in the last few years.

        1. Ammaross Danan

          Re @AC 16:33

          "Free if your time has no value? I assume that you either work for MSFT or haven't seen Linux, LibreOffice, etc. in the last few years."

          Those are the "diamonds" he was referring to. Granted, I don't recall any end-user GPL stuff that takes even 30min to install and configure. Note "end-user stuff" doesn't include Apache or Bind9, but even Apache works out-of-the-box....

          I will grant that it's hard to find an obscure-purpose GPL application that has made it out of alpha/beta phase and into 1.0 territory though.

        2. llewton


          this guy worked for canonical lol

          what a disaster comical is

      2. JEDIDIAH

        Apple replaces Microsoft replaces Edison

        > As with Linux, so with most of the rest of

        > open-source software in general: it's only

        > "free" if your time has no value.

        That's funny because a lot of us Linux users were using this "App Store" approach to installing software LONG before Apple decided to copy it.

        You should find some newer FUD.

        That line wasn't even really accurate even when it was first uttered.

      3. Rex Alfie Lee
        Thumb Down

        Dear sacred cow, pig, dog, crap...

        You wrote an awful lot of tripe in your diatribal response. It's kind of funny really that it showed clearly how much you actually know about your chosen subject. Diddly-squat!!!

  2. Jeremy Chappell

    The bigger problem.

    But the elephant in the room is "trust".

    Open Source, if it is to be really successful (in ideology terms, rather than units shipped) will come from "the little guy", someone you've probably not heard of. The "bug guy" always has an agenda; he has to, he's answerable to shareholders and they want to see effort (investment) turned into profit.

    The "little guy" often builds software because he needs it, his motivation is simple; "I need this, I can build it, if I share it then people will help me".

    The problem is you don't know the little guy. There is always someone who wants to break this covenant for profit.

    So "the bad guy" can take the little guy's effort, add something undesirable (malware), then make it available.

    How does the end consumer tell? Is this written by "the little guy" or "the bad guy"?

    I don't see a technical solution. Until this is properly addressed (if that's even possible) then paying "the big guy" seems preferable for consumers.

    Which brings us into Apple's App Store. While some won't like it, it is probably the best thing consumers have. A store with a gatekeeper, checking products, rejecting products, distributing products. It isn't perfect, bad stuff can slip through, but Apple do seem to make this a rare event. Good for consumers, bad for open source. But now we've seen how much malware there is in Android Marketplace, and how damaging that can be, our choice is clear.

    I for one, welcome our fruity overlords; the alternative is too dangerous.

    1. h4rm0ny


      I don't think trust is a big issue for most purchasers. If they trust Facebook with their data, I don't think they're really approaching this from the same angle you are. In fact, I'd even go so far as to say that it is the other way around. If I buy a piece of software, whether that's a small-house app like the Penguinet terminal emulator, or some bad mother like Excel, I am actually very happy to pay them the money because it gives me more of a reason to trust and rely on them. They want money. I have money. We have a basis for trade. I have seldom found promises a good sole reason to go with a solution. Same in various private projects I've done - I've had people willing to work voluntarily and I have instead said: "no - this is what I want, and this is money for it". And that has served me much better.

      As demonstrated by the people rushing to pay £0.99 for their app, free or unfree in financial terms isn't the issue. By all means ask me to pay for your software. If I want it and it's £0.99, I'll buy it. Telling me I can save £0.99 isn't going to persuade me to go with your solution. The pluses of Libre software are the Free as in Speech, not Free as in Beer. I wonder if some people have mistaken which is most important.

      We can't allow people to control the marketplace. That is the blow to FOSS. Money is neither here nor there.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Jobs Halo

      In every little guy...

      ... is a big guy struggling to get out.

      1. Anonymous Coward


        Does anyone have a crowbar and some muscle relaxant?

    3. Rex Alfie Lee

      Free software is not about money...

      You write software then you can charge for it. Free (OSS or GPL) software means you get the source code with it & so you can update it & make it better. You can also then charge for it but because it is OSS you have to provide the new source as well...

  3. Wayland Sothcott 1 Bronze badge
    Jobs Halo

    Free Open Source does not have to be given away

    If you want to charge for Open Source I understand that's up to you. Since normally you would be competing against other servers offering the download for free then you would be unlikely to make any sales. However if you have to charge 99c to get the software onto the Apple store then you probably would take money if people can't be bothered to look for the free version.

    I don't see how this hurts open source.

  4. mafoo
    Thumb Down


    Apple took VLC down because of a copyright infringement complaint from one of the contributors to the VLC source code. Many of the other VLC contributors were pissed off by his move.

    One person throwing his toys out the pram because he thinks he could make apple change their licence, buggered it for everyone else.

    I don't know of any other ports of GPL software that have been by Apple solely.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: VLC

      "One person throwing his toys out the pram because he thinks he could make apple change their licence, buggered it for everyone else."

      Nope: just because some people are apathetic about end-users getting the privileges written in the licence doesn't mean that everyone involved has to accept such licensing violations. After all, people have agreed to contribute their code in the understanding that the end-user can, say, share that software with their friends. If a bunch of people are whining that "it's OK, I don't mind Apple stripping rights that I promised to people" then it is they who need to clue up about the social contract they've entered into.

      And Apple could do as many other providers do and accept the licensing terms of submitted software by allowing those terms to override their own where appropriate. That they accepted a GPL-licensed product into their walled garden, knowing that their own terms conflict with the terms applied to the software, would indicate that Apple were knowingly in the wrong regardless of whatever you may assert about toys and prams.

      1. a_been

        Cry me a river

        Why not just have the balls to use a name, we all recognise the crap you post. Also what evidence do you have that Apple are stupid enougth to send every app to the lawyers to chech if it breakes ther licence. One of the reasons for posting what will and will not be accepted is to reduce cost.

      2. mafoo


        His objection was that the Apps have DRM, but the app was freely available through the app store anyway. The source code was available. This is in the spirit of the GNU licence, maybe not to the letter.

        His need to stir up politics for his own amusement has seriously harmed the perception of opensource software.

        Hilariously, the person who requested VLC be removed from the app store, Rémi Denis, works for Nokia. Now he has Win Phone 7 to look forward to.

        Almost makes you believe in karma.

    2. Martin Owens

      The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

      It's the programmer's right to see his license abided by. It's Apple's business to make sure their terms are no so outrageously draconian that they step on copyleft licenses. Although at least Apple didn't explicitly ban GPL like Microsoft did.

      There is a real political battle going on and all this talk of features, functions and other such rubbish is a distraction from the ready fitted shackles you're all buying.

  5. amehaye
    Jobs Halo

    Apple and the GPL apps

    Some smart-bottom tried to get apple to change their terms of service, these being incompatible with the GPL, on the ground that they distribute GPL apps. Apple decided that it would be easier to simply remove all GPL apps from the store.

    As much as I don't usually care for Apple, you cannot blame them for this one.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Apple and the GPL apps

      "Some smart-bottom tried to get apple to change their terms of service, these being incompatible with the GPL, on the ground that they distribute GPL apps. Apple decided that it would be easier to simply remove all GPL apps from the store."

      No, they merely said that Apple can't distribute GPL-licensed software and apply terms to such software that prevent redistribution (or "sharing" if you want a shorter word) of that software. Since Apple want everyone to get "apps" from them and only them, preferably with money involved, there was only one thing they could do if they weren't willing to budge from their control freak mindset.

      Other companies would probably have had a clause in their terms saying that those terms do not override specific software licensing conditions, and thus would yield to such conditions where necessary. That's a well-established means of not violating other people's licences.

      Apple, of course, want to control everything. When people finally learn this (presumably after having their "apps" banned from the Apple services for some arbitrary reason for the nth time) they'll have the sense to take their software elsewhere and let the "app" bubble deflate.

      1. a_been

        And as such we see an idiot

        Developers want to make money, you seem to miss that point. Apple tackels the #1 and #2 reasons that pre-app store software was expensive and that is piracy and distribution. It's not about controling users, It's about ensuring developers get paid. Before the Iphone over 90% of all mobile phone software was pirated. Apple mostly solved the problem which is why developers are willing to sell software for $5 that they had sold for $25 previously.

        Also Nintendo, Sony, Microsoft each charge tens of thousands of dollars for their SDK's while making it explicit that buying a kit dosn't mean that any game you produce for their consol will be allowed to be sold. Yet developers havn't abbandoned the consol market. I can see why you are an Anonymous Coward, even in your own retarded way you seem to understand what you posted was drivel.

    2. Rex Alfie Lee

      I think this untrue...

      Apple actually started with an OS, BSD-UNIX, that was basically a free software. I wonder what would happen to Apple if Berkeley decided to sue Apple for breach of agreement?

      1. a_been

        The fail was with think

        Nothing as Berkeley will never sue Apple, this was all sorted out in the late 80's early 90's and with no involvmeant from apple.

  6. David Taylor 1

    Open Source != Free

    Free as in speech, not free as in beer...

    1. Robert E A Harvey

      FOSS for money

      I don't see why some of the non-profit foundations can't sell open source apps. All they need to do is make the source available, not supply it with the app.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't see the connection

    If someone pays 99 cents for an app and can have access to the code from the developer's site, what's the problem?

    The key idea of free software is that each of us can become developers and build on eachothers' work. As long as the source code is available then that is achievable and nothing in Apple's contract prevents it, AFAIK (I could be wrong, given the nature of Apple's fascist tendencies but I've not heard that they actually prevent you publishing your code).

    If I produce an app under GPL, and publish the code somewhere that users can download it all it means is that you can use my code to do the same. NOTHING prevents either of us from selling pre-compiled versions for $0.99 or 5,000,000 euro for that matter.

    1. Sander van der Wal
      Jobs Halo

      The problem is this.

      What will happen is that the second developer will sell the same, or a slightly changed version of that app on App Store too. So the second developer profits from the first developers hard work. Then comes a third developer posting his own version, then a fourth...

      And in no time App Store is filled with a gazillion copies of identical or slightly different versions of the same app, none of which is making any money.

      So if you want to make a living from writing and selling apps, giving away the source code isn't going to work.

      But it can get worse. If you give away the app and developer two sells the app, he makes more money than you. All of it, in fact, until the third and fourth developer find out.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Well, this is how Apple got where they are today - copying ideas and, in the case of OS/X, code - from other people and building on it. Even the early Apple I and IIs were based on combining off-the self components someone else had made.

        *Let* them all copy each other and let Dawrin sort it out.

        1. a_been


          You forgot to mention the stuff that Woz worked out himself but really why bother to post, we can go all the way back to the stone age with your argument

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Stone age?

            Why not? Woz did add lots of stuff, but he built on what had come before. It is that ability to not start from scratch every time that actually got us out of the stone age.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    As Mrs Brown said... Paddington Bear, "when you've got nothing to say, say nothing"

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      and as James Hacked added... Bernard, "better yet, have something to say and say it, no matter what!"

  9. Neil Lewis


    It's an easy mistake for a novice to make. Matt Asay, with his experience at Ubuntu, doesn't have that excuse though. Free software (and to a lesser extent, 'open source') isn't just about being free of charge. Without wanting to state the obvious, Android devices have no problem with free, i.e. GPL software, whether through the Android Market or other sources. Unlike iPhone and WP7, it's not necessary for the user to jump through any hoops to do this.

    Quality lower on GPL apps than closed source? Are you serious? First of all, can we finally dispel the myth that all GPL coding is done by amateurs. It's never been true on the desktop, as numerous studies have shown. In the case of these mobile devices, it's still very much the case that the ad-supported apps can generate very substantial profits for a commercial developer without having to be closed source. If it's really felt necessary to 'protect' the app from copying by others, it's possible to copyright the media content in the app, but still keep the code itself free. Secondly, the code quality of closed source Vs free software has been examined on several occasions and free, open development models have always been shown to have far fewer bugs. Thirdly, if a commercial developer wants to create a free, ad-supported app with copyright media content, they have every incentive to ensure the interface is of the highest quality. The business model of ad-supported relies on people being able to download without a second thought and to copy and redistribute freely. The faster an app spreads, the more ad hits it generates. Sure, it's a different model to selling an app for cash, but even very small sums like 99p are enough to casual downloads.

    So, what about 'big name' apps? Is Matt Asay seriously suggesting that it's not possible to justify developing and offering a game like Angry Birds for free, using an ad-supported model?

    It's now more or less taken as a given that Android will be the biggest volume player in the mobile space. Given the clamour for that particular app as the first really big mobile game, can you really imagine iPhone users being happy when a similarly popular app appears on Android for free and they either can't have it at all, or it costs them cash just because of Apple's policies? And even if they are happy, can you imagine the chilling effect on the iPhone platform as a whole if it's then seen by everyone who hasn't already settled into that camp for what it is - expensive and limited, just to support Apple's closed business model?

    Now, about business use. It's often been said that the majority of business applications are custom built and that the vast majority of programmers work on in-house code. The reason FLOSS works so well for business is the ease of customising pre-built applications, and of letting others share the development effort. There are enormous business advantages of eschewing the 'one size fits all' approach of closed source vendors for applications which truly fit the needs of the individual business. In what way is a mobile platform for business not as capable of benefiting from open, custom app development as a desktop platform?

    Given Matt Asay's experience, I'd have to conclude that this piece is no more than flamebait.


  10. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    open source

    >examples of open-source apps for iOS or Android,

    Like iOS (BSD-Darwin) or Android (Linux) ?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Open Source needs an App app

    What open source needs is a mobile package manager as an app. You download the package manager, it works just like it does on Linux: You get categories of software and all of it is free and open source software available for zero dollars. It gets around the GPL restriction: Put the package manager under the BSD license and you can get it in the app store. And then Apple and Microsoft don't have to distribute GPL software themselves, because the app downloads them straight from the repositories.

    Of course, they could just ban the "package manager" app. No doubt Apple would -- "competes with base phone functionality" or whatever, plus they wouldn't be able to censor any of the programs in it.

    But consider that Android is clearly the most friendly platform for open source anyway. Now consider their troubles with malware. Wouldn't a package manager where e.g. the Debian people decide what goes in, and therefore ensure that basically none of it is malware, be of great utility to people?

  12. Anonymous Coward


    All your code efforts are belong to us as Steve Le Batard might say.

  13. Rhod

    This is the real story of Nokia/Microsoft

    This is the real story of Nokia getting into bed with Microsoft. Maemo/Meego is no longer a O/S with a huge future; it's been sidelined and OpenSource on mobile has effectively been sidelined with it.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Gates Horns

      The Nokia / MS thing is just a convenient excuse to pull the plug

      It was *Maemo* which had the huge future. When they merged with Moblin we ended up with...well nothing really.

      Meego meant pretty much starting again from scratch, for no reason whatsoever, both in terms of the technology and the community.

      Intel's hubris killed Maemo, then the Nokia / MS deal simply took Meego off life support. Now they are both pining for the fjords and there is nothing comparable to replace them.

      Which is an arse. The N900 is easily the best phone I have ever used, but mine cannot last forever....

  14. Kevin (Just Kevin)

    Is this about Free or Open Source?

    This is a very confused story. What's wrong with an OSS 99c app? Why is that such a bad thing?

  15. silentcoder

    I am not sure you are right.

    There is one big problem with your article. It's based on the current high positions of Apple's phones in market, Apple and the believe that restrictions on the app-store there will remove too much of the instant-gratification from FOSS for it to make sense to users.

    Now your logic is sound, but short-term. Apple's position is already wavering. Every single quarterly results output from the past two years have shown a steady growth in Android adoption, with the expected start of the resulting decline in iPhone adoption already visible in the last quarter and there is absolutely no reason to believe this trend will not continue.

    And with android, not only is there no restrictions on licenses for the app-store (nor likely to ever be any) the actual Operating System on the phones is itself open-source (though it's not free software - but it comes pretty close, and free software custom-roms do exist).

    Apples has been funging their true results on IOS by including tablet sales - excluding those you see that Apple is actually significantly underselling against Android in the phone market and there is no reason whatsoever to assume that this trend will not repeat itself as several Android tablets hit the market this year.

    That alone will change the face of the marketplace. When Android started - we were told it wouldn't work because developers wont' develop for it -after all, the iphone market is bigger and it's already there. This didn't happen.

    Then Jobs told us that not restricting development and the app-store meant that developers have too wide a base to develop for and this meant worse apps - that was proven bunk when the very example he cited tweeted to state that it was bunk and they in fact spent LESS developer time on their android version than on their iphone version !

    The truth is that what we're seeing on the phones is nothing new at all. In the 1980's Jobs pushed a PC that was limited and restricted, hard to upgrade part-by-part and highly closed up. It sold well. Eventually though the IBM compatibles took over because they were open, this made them not just cheaper to run but more powerful and users ended up demanding that power.

    At first - when new technology comes along, the restricted version looks more attractive to users - less abilities mean less to learn, it seems "simpler". WIthin a few years the technology is no longer new, and now users want to use them to their full potential - that's when they start moving to the open versions because without that potential is simply impossible to obtain.

    That's what happened with PC's. You can mitigate it a bit like Microsoft did by making your system more and more LIKE the open one (much like Windows 7 bears an uncanny resemblance to KDE4 which is quite a bit older) but Jobs has never done that before and he shows no sign of doing so now.

    Google is bargaining on the same thing happening in phones and we're already seeing the start of it. Jobs won't change to avoid it, it doesn't matter to him. Apple will cash in on the early market "less is more" attitude for as long as possible, and then just stop caring about not making money on their phones anymore.

    Since the 1980's Jobs found a new trick - whenever you get to the point where those restrictions annoy too many people, stop pushing the product, just get the restricted version of the NEXT major technology wave out first.

    Before long smartphones will be common-place, most people will be on their second or third and Android will probably rule the market. Apple will be making a fortune out of some new toy.

    That means the part of the market where open-source has the biggest footprint and the highest level of instant gratification is the part that will keep growing. Ultimately the 99c apps won't be there at all.

    Finally - your assertion that commercial cost apps are likely to be "higher quality" than FOSS "because of the investment' is utter bunk and you know it.

    We've proven that argument false over and over. Sourceforge alone has over 1.2 million developers registered now. If each of them just spends 1 hour a week on their open-source work, that gives the open-source ecosystem more developer man-hours per day than Microsoft, IBM and Apple combined - by an entire order of magnitude - even if you count the developers doing open-source work *at* those companies in both sides of the equation.

    Most FOSS is developed with investment and a lot of it is done for profit. Not selling software for a purchase price has never prevent FOSS from doing it for money. So the "investment" argument is ludicrous anyway but even among hobbyist code FOSS has consistently shown higher average quality in almost every field than their proprietory competition.

    Photoshop is a rare exception - but this is much more a case of market establishment for a very complex type of software that takes a long time to learn (and thus has very high user inertia) than it is a case of the FOSS alternatives not being of comparable (or better) quality. Both Krita and GIMP are excellent competition for it, and both have stronger features in many areas. Another is cases like business accounting software where legal restrictions place a significant burden on developers, but in the sphere of server-software and general user-side applications the trend is very clear.

    As a final bit of proof. Exactly this trend even happened within the FOSS desktop space - KDE and GNOME were comparable in the early 21st century, then GNOME went the way of "ultra restricted" (to the point where Linus called it "Braindead") while KDE went the way of more and more freedom. When KDE4 came out, users were initially very unhappy and GNOME was suddenly praised (for the first time in their history GNOME's userbase actually grew LARGER than KDE's) ... this didn't last.

    As we speak the development on the next version of GNOME is going the exact same route that KDE4 did - they shouldn't see the same backlash because KDE already paved the way, but those same features that a few years ago scared users off are now deemed essential by them. Those features were almost verbatim duplicated by Microsoft in VISTA (though they didn't get them usable until Window 7).

    In the long run, the option that lets users do the most with their stuff *always* wins. In the short term, technophobia gives the edge to the options that reduce the capabilities. But this is never the ultimate outcome and we have 50 years of computing history proving that.

    *FAIL* because the article thinks the world ends in 2012.

  16. Henry Wertz 1 Gold badge

    Just hurts Apple

    I do not see Apple pulling GPLed apps from the app store as harming open source; rather, it will harm Apple and those who still choose to be Apple customers. This will just increase the flow of programmers who are jumping ship away from writing for Apple products, and increase the number writing for Android devices instead.

  17. Andrew Moore

    The problem with Open Source...

    As someone who has contributed to a couple of Open Source initiatives, I have to say that the problem is not with the whole Open Source ethos but with the consumers it attracts. The seems to be a massive entitlement issue with these people as they believe that as the source is free then the time and resources of the developers are also free and they (the developers) must respond to all demands for installation requests, technical support and code/design customisation.

    And when one of these consumers tells you that 'if you had a donate button, I'd send you some money'; don't believe them. I've had a donate button up on my site for over half a year and it hasn't had a single hit.

  18. Mike Pellatt

    Android ??

    So... an analysis of app stores "on mobile" makes no mention at all of the (presently) fastest-growing mobile environment and its app store - Android.

    How so ?? Perhaps because it could be a counter-example ??

    This is nearly as bad as the "digital - vs - analog (sic) business model" article.

  19. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The problem is really with GPL3 and DRM

    Although it is not as clear cut as "publish an app under GPL3 and you must publish the DRM keys" but it is close enough to make it simpler for Apple etc. to just refuse to accept anything protected by GPL3.

  20. Joe Montana

    Apple pulling GPL?

    If Apple are pulling GPL code from the iphone/ipad, shouldn't they pull Webkit too?

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      WebKit's LGPLv2.1 or BSD.

      And I think Apple are only pulling GPLv3 - a lot of things are still published under GPLv2

    2. The First Dave Silver badge

      Not Apple

      From everything I have read, it has not been Apple that has initiated any of the pulling - it has always been at the request of a supposed rights holder - certainly was with VLC, as noted above.

      As far as I can see, Apple doesn't mind if you post a GPL app to their store, but since the GPL is incompatible with Apple's T's&C's, they have no choice but to remove anything they are notified about.

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    >Sure, it's not hard to find examples of open-source apps for iOS or Android, but the very premise of open source is under siege in the mobile world

    Not sure I understand - there's 10K's of OSS Apps for Android - aside from the stack itself being OSS. Why lump it in with MS and iOS which are based on models aiming to pull in revenue from App Stores and actively ban many OSS licenses from them.

    I know you're fond of talking up Ubuntu, but it hardly even figures in the scheme of things 1% of desktops maybe - Android is actually a mainstream consumer Linux/OSS success story, in fact its the only one really.

  22. petur
    Dead Vulture


    nuf said...

    1. Anonymous Coward


      Unsupported, orphaned and clunky. Nuff said indeed. Friends no longer let friends buy n00kia.

  23. James Hughes 1

    Makes sense

    When offered something for free or something for small cost, psychology says to you 'Why is that one free and this one 99p? I have to pay for that so it must be better'.

    I agree that this is a problem for FOSS on mobile - it's so easy to produce apps and make a few quid from them, that why would people bother writing FOSS, and not get anything for it?

  24. Marco van de Voort

    Does it have a place at all?

    The average mobile phone cycle is 2 years or so. One can wonder if relatively slow moving Open Source has a place there at all.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      I suppose the intention is that once you finish with your current Droid / iPhone / whatever then you will buy a new version of the same thing and re-use your old apps. In fact if you buy enough apps you may very well use that as a factor in your next choice of mobile phone.

      Anyway, where is your evidence that FOSS moves so slowly that a 2 year cycle would mean it couldn't fit in?

  25. doperative

    app stores cheaper than open source?

    > Open source has gone from pariah to messiah in the past decade

    It was never a "pariah", if only in parts of Redmond ..

    > It's about mobile app stores making app discovery and adoption cheaper and easier than open source did ..

    Interesting if even true ..

  26. Ilgaz

    Let me tell you the problem

    Nokia acquired qt, they made very neat terms for open source software on their app store down to signing some software for free.

    They aren't even mentioned on this article and not a single qt app developer was insterested anyway.

    Just remember this post when Windows phone with even worse terms makes a market share because of Nokia switch.

  27. MinionZero

    Multiple reasons for multiple types of open source software

    I have no problem paying $0.99 (or even $1.99 & $2.99 for that matter, if its more complex software). The thing is the developer has to live and fund their life. If my money helps them support the software with updates, then even better. Money is after all a proxy for a barter system. They give me something, I give them something, we both gain from what we get.

    Its not greedy to want to live and to want to have the money to buy food etc.. That's just life. The developer has to live. The reason I said that, is that the discussion on open source so often descends into an argument that it must be given away utterly for free. Well that’s fine if you want to give it away for free, but everyone still has to live, so some people want their day job to be producing software as well and they cannot *always* also give that day job software away for free, as they then wouldn't have anything to live on! ... the *always* is the key point.

    In the case of the day job earning money, there appears to be (so far) two successful business models for Open Source software. The first is the Support Provider, which is a business model that only works for some large software projects like an operating system e.g. Linux. In this case, they give the software away for free and earn their living by providing support services for the complex software to help large companies use that software. So in effect, their business is really a service industry company.

    The second business model is the collaboration of professionals to solve a common problem. This saves all of them time and so also money, as they all gain from solving the problems, so its in their mutual best interests to make the software better. Its like all members gain from having a virtual larger workforce where they all each helping each other all solve common problems.

    The misconception (often pushed by close source companies) is that Open Source is just amateurs collaborating in their spare time. That isn't a business, its a hobby. That does obviously happen and it does sometimes even help some of the collaborators (and many on lookers) then also end up using their collaborative work to then start up their own self-employed businesses. (Games engines are a very good example of this e.g.

    The bottom line is even in the case of all amateurs (which is rare as often some are professionals in their day jobs) but even a case of all amateurs collaborating on an open source project, there is very often still a return on investment from the time put into creating that software. That return may not always be money, it could just be for fun and the interest & entertainment of creating it or it could even be for the respect and adulation from fans of your software, but the point is there is still some return on investment being sought.

    So there are different reasons why people do open source, but I have no problem paying $0.99 or even $2.99 for some useful software and thanks for the effort of creating it! (Which brings up another interesting point, which is that the pricing on mobile apps are now so low, its now at the point where people can't use cost as an excuse for piracy when it costs so little. People can't argue with getting months of developers efforts for just $0.99 or even $2.99. It is a very fair price to pay).

    @"if an app is close enough to free and immediately available, with the added benefit of potentially being higher quality than open-source alternatives"

    That is utterly wrong. The closed source companies often push the idea its a question of quality, but its most definitely not a question of quality. Open source apps can often be as good (and in some cases a lot better) than paid for apps.

  28. ArkhamNative


    FSS and GPL seemed to pull a big fail IMHO when they tried to open the iPhone platform by hitting Apple over the head with the software license. To me "open" always meant code and what I could do with it as a developer. It never promised free hardware, free development software, or free licence to access the SDK. And on the iPhone, it never guaranteed access to the App Store, root access to the OS, or a code-signing certificate from Apple. Those are completely separate issues.

    In that vein, if I write an OSS app and put the code project on my Web site, that should satisfy the license. If I go through the process of creating a binary and getting it posted to the app store, I have not violated any license -- the source is available for any developer to do the same.

    1. doperative

      FSS hitting Apple with software license?

      > FSS and GPL seemed to pull a big fail IMHO when they tried to open the iPhone platform by hitting Apple over the head with the software license, ArkhamNative

      "Even if the original developers distributed the software to Apple in full compliance with the GPL's terms, Apple would still violate the license when it distributed the software through the App Store and subjected the program to their terms of service's usage rules,"

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      That would be true for pure OSS

      but not for F(ree)OSS. With a GPL licensed application, it is not enough to make available the source code on some web site (remember TiVO ?). If I offer you a GPL application free or at a certain cost you agree to pay, I am not allowed to impose any restrictions on how you use that application with one notable exception: I may not impose any additional restrictions when you redistribute this application to others. In plain old English, if I offer you freedom I forbid you from taking away other people's freedom. As you can see, it has nothing to do with cost here.

      It's not a failure here, GPL has been designed specifically for that, to prevent some software vendor from using his product to impose restrictions on how you use it.

      On the other hand, Apple has a different attitude towards end-user freedoms however they are not to blame for rejecting GPL apps and everything they did was according to both the letter and the spirit of the FOSS: if you can't comply with GPL, don't distribute it. In my opinion, the developer of the rejected GPL software should have been aware of the incompatibility and refrain from attempting to distribute it via Apple AppStore. In conclusion, Apple was right, the developer was wrong. As for FOSS or GPL, they worked as designed here.

    3. Martin Owens

      The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

      Because Free Software isn't about developer right, but about user rights? Just a thought.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        @Martin Owens : You are correct

        Very few people are noticing this.but this is actually the case. Just read a GPL EULA and Microsoft EULA and compare the way the two are being formulated. Although it may seem weird, there's a community of developers who decided to care about user rights in a way that may seem insane to the rest of the developers

        Your usage of the Fail icon is wrong here.

  29. xj25vm

    Not about the money

    Casting back one's mind to the first days of the Linux kernel (I know, it's not the only open source project, and not even the first one - but I suppose it can be considered the most iconic) - you will find that it wasn't a question of money. I believe Linus had to re-invent the wheel because he wasn't allowed to tinker with the existing one and to change it the way he wanted to.

    I think there is a good chance that one day, when people will have had enough of fondling their various iDevices (and non-iDevices) - they will realise how much control there is from the manufacturer. Then, specially the more technical users, will want more alternatives. I think that's when open source will start again making inroads on mobile platforms.

    When people will get fed-up with the manufacturer deciding if their older phone/tablet/device will get an update to newer version of OS or not, or when they will be fed-up with the manufacturer forcing them to have an update for the OS which they don't want - that's when they will start to seek the advantages of open source and community developed software and more open options. But that might be a long way in the future.

  30. Eugene Crosser

    Important reason to choose free mobile apps

    (not necessarily open source) over those that cost $.99 is to withhold your credit card number (and your spending pattern that comes with it) from the owner of the app store. I am not buying anything from Android market because I refuse to use Google checkout. Google knows enough about me already, I am not telling it how I spend my money.

  31. Bob 18
    Jobs Horns

    Android, Anyone?

    This article doesn't mention Android --- an ecosystem that will probably surpass iOS in the near future. As long as GPL software is available on the regular Android Marketplace, I don't think proclamations of the "death of open source on mobile" are warranted.

    I bought an Android phone --- not an iPhone --- specifically because I didn't want Steve Jobs to arbitrarily decided what I can and cannot do with my phone.

  32. Sean Baggaley 1


    Last time I looked, Richard Stallman and his GNU Party did not have a monopoly on either "open source" or "free software" licensing. The GPL series of licenses is just one of *many*. There's also the Apache license, the BSD license—hell, there's even a Microsoft one!

    And that's without even looking at Public Domain, which is a far older distribution medium for software, easily predating GPL. (I can't be the only one who remembers the massive "Fred Fish" PD collection for the Commodore Amiga, surely?)

    So, just because the Apple App Store's Terms and Conditions may (or may not; it hasn't been formally tested in court) be "compatible", it does not mean ALL "Open Source" or "Free Software" is thus incompatible. The problem—such as it is—applies *solely* to GPL. And, from the looks of things, specifically to GPL v3.

    After all, iOS is *built* on BSD foundations, and Apple's own developers have contributed to both Darwin and WebKit (among others), so Apple clearly have no problem with the underlying philosophies.

    If there's a "problem", it's not "Open Source" or "Software Libre" (or whatever that's being called this week). It's with a very specific flavour of it: GPL.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Thumb Down

      GPL is generating all this controversy

      because it is the only free (as in freedom) software that has teeth and claws preventing anyone from pilfering the work of developers. Apple contributed back to Darwin ? Yeah, such a rich ecosystem almost nobody is using. What's the point of contributing to this OS besides reducing Apple's development costs ? Many of you are pointing here to the fact that Apple OS is based on BSD but please tell how many Apple applications can you run on it ?

      If we are bitching here today about Linux instead of any other OS it surely is because of GPL. This proves to me beyond all doubt that Stallman was brilliant. GPL is definitely not a problem, it is a solution.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Whither Canonical?

    I wonder when Canonical is going to get into the hardware end of the business? Getting into the hardware business is not nearly so daunting a prospect as it once was. Or, might they be looking at Motorola's Xoom? Herr Jobs has a fifteen-to-twenty year head start with the iPad, but then so should M$FT. The difference between them is that Unka Steve Jobs "gets it" and Unka Steve Balmer don't. Taste matters, and Unka Mark seems to understand that. I think he scares the other geeks spitless for that very reason. I think what Unka Mark must be asking hisself is whether or not he wants to maintain control over the hardware or not. Probably not. Doubtlessly, he has very good contacts in the Orient.

  34. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    @Free Open Source does not have to be given away

    Missing the point, if I use an open source package and give it to you then you have the same rights to give it to someone else.

    Apple is saying that the user cannot share what they have downloaded.

    1. SImon Hobson Silver badge


      >> Missing the point, if I use an open source package and give it to you then you have the same rights to give it to someone else.

      >> Apple is saying that the user cannot share what they have downloaded.

      The idea of free software is that the USER has the freedom to run whatever software they want to, the freedom to modify that software (or ask someone else to modify it for them) if they'd like it to do something differently, and the freedom to redistribute the software to others. Ie the USER can decide what they use their device for, and how they use it.

      This is fundamentally incompatible with Apple's approach where Apple decide what programs you may use, Apple decide how the program may work, and Apple prevent you from taking the source fo a program (even if the vendor gives it to you) and modifying it (it won't run as it won't be signed by Apple). Even free apps cannot be shared as Apple want to be able to control who runs what on Apple's devices - you may think you've bought it, but in reality Apple still control how it works, when it works, and what you can do with it. Apple controls the device, and the device controls the user - thus Apple control the user.

      The user cannot download apps from elsewhere, so it's pointless developers offering free software via other distribution channels. For users to run those programs on an Apple device, they'd have to jailbreak their device which is technically harder than many users will be prepared to try, has risks (get it wrong and you've bricked your expensive device), and is actually illegal (criminal offence in both the USA and Europe).

      The only way to get a GPL3 app onto an unmodified IMoan or iBad without breaking licence terms would be for Apple to also distribute the signing key to allow the user to sign and install their own versions. That's just not going to happen, pigs will evolve wings first.

      Android is only a little better. AFAIK there is no handset on the market that allows you (without similarly jailbreaking it with all the risks involved) to run a version of the OS of your choice - they all have digital handcuffs that limit you to the version supplied by the vendor, with all that implies (including the presence of what would in any other situation be classed as malware). With the manufacturers version of the OS, what you can do varies and some of them are fairly restrictive.

      So even with Android, the USER does not control their device, the vendor does.

      Would you buy a car where the manufacturer reserves the right to turn up unannounced and remove parts from it whenever they like ? I doubt it, but that is exactly what people seem prepared to accept in the computing world.


    Inherently restricted device

    > So, just because the Apple App Store's Terms and Conditions

    > may (or may not; it hasn't been formally tested in court) be

    > "compatible", it does not mean ALL "Open Source" or "Free

    > Software" is thus incompatible.

    Yes it does. Part of the definition of "Free Software" includes being able to do things with the source and binaries that Apple doesn't allow. THAT is one of the reasons that the VLC developer in question threw the hissy fit that he did.

    "Free Software" is a term invented by RMS and the GNU tools are actually quite old. They predate Linux by a good long while and were even available on the ST and the Amiga.

  36. kdd

    Problem is more GPL than open source

    The implication of GPL is that the end user has the right to build and deploy his own copy of the app from source. Building is not so much a problem, but deploying is. With Apple, users do not get to deploy there own, PERIOD, because Apple's ease of use, reliability and stability is based on complete control of all the hardware and software, and they ain't gonna give that up, since it is a significant competitive feature. It is in fact, what makes Apple Apple, and not a Microsoft wannabe. That's pretty incompatible with the spirit of the GPL, if not the letter. I like open as much as the next guy, but I also see the value of consistency and reliability, and the challenge to deliver it in an open environment is real-- just see the recent news about malware infestations on Android...

    1. SImon Hobson Silver badge

      Wrong way round

      GPL (specifically GPLv3) isn't the problem, Apple (and the other vendors with similar ideas about control) is the problem.

      First debunking: Having a consistent user experience does **NOT** require a closed ecosystem like the iWhatsits. When the Mac came out, Apple published 3 volumes of developer information. One volume was dedicated entirely to the user interface. There was no licensing terms or digital handcuffs to enforce that, but because almost all programs abided by these guidelines, there was a consistent look and feel - and users voted with their wallets and (or modem time) and shunned programs that didn't work like that. Mac users got a consistent user experience, across a very diverse set of applications, with absolutely no control by Apple other than publishing the guidelines.

      So all these stories that the closed system is required for the user experience a necessity are a complete and utter lie.

      Next debunking: The closed system is required for security. Who's security ? Don't lose sight of the fact that these iWhatsits come with spyware and other malware built in - by Apple (or the device vendor for Android devices). Yes, they come with free malware designed to allow the vendor to do things that are illegal in many countries. They can spy on you. They can remotely alter your device. They can remotely remove software (or other materials) you have paid for. The only reason the vendors claim it is legal is because you agreed to it when you first used the device - it's in those pages and pages of legal stuff called the EULA. Trouble is, much of that is almost certainly not legal - at least in the UK and Europe. But so far no-one has the wherewithall to challenge it in court which would be an expensive business as the vendors would drag it out all the way as they have so much to lose.

      Even if you allowed the platform to be totally open, you could still set the defaults to use just the vendors repository for applications. Users that don't care would see no difference, those that do could take some responsibility for what they install.

  37. steeplejack

    Matt Asay misses the point - again.

    Free Software is plainly and obviously better for a number of reasons than any proprietary setup can ever be. That will never change. The fact that commercial interests also have an existence and manage to survive in the short term doesn't mean that they are better!

  38. John 62

    how I feel about paying for apps

    I am shocked and disappointed I am the first to post this

  39. 2cent

    That dog don't hunt

    "That's fine for developers, but it's less useful for consumers. They're finding apps in the various app stores, or they're hearing about them from friends, media and other sources. They're unlikely to jump through many hoops to get their apps, however, and this is perhaps the most pernicious effect mobile app stores will have on open source."

    No disrespect Matt but

    Is jumping through hoops giving a friend a URL?

    Gee whiz, how do some people ever get to a bathroom?

    Anybody seen the "ten open source" lists showing up from almost any reputable software web/mag source for every device that uses it?

    Alas, nobody gets away from advertising dollars and product placement.

    It's one of those things where, if somebody could, would almost make you believe there was only one operating system in existence.

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