Aral Balkan who is an ardent campaigner against privacy-bending & exploiting platforms such as Facebook and Google. He is also not a fan of closed platforms. And that is why he has embarked on a Herculean quest to team up with like minded developers and hackers to develop a truly open source phone and mobile platform — the Indie phone and platform. He is also a very visible member of the indie-web movement.
It is no surprise, that I I have been following its development and often read Aral’s Twitter feed to find out the status of the project. Today, he messaged to let me know that they are now releasing Phoenix, a free and open source version of Apple’s recently released programming language, Swift. It is being developed by Greg Casamento, who has years of experience in Objective-C and compiler developer to Ind.ie and also leads the GNUStep project. Phoenix in greek mythology is a long lived bird that is cyclically regenerated or reborn. I am guessing, the open source renewal is what Aral has on his mind!
In in an open letter to Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, Aral points out that that Swift and Metal are Apple’s way to keep the programmers away from the Android platform but in doing so, Apple is going closed and forgetting that it has reaped the benefits of open source software. He said it was shortsighted of Apple as it fights Google for platform dominance no different than the fight with Microsoft, a generation ago. Here is an excerpt from the open letter.
Just as your customers should not be your product, your developers should not be your prisoners. Swift is a beautiful language but you want to keep it all to yourself. That’s just not on.
Imagine how different Apple’s own story would have been if Richard had not written the GNU C Compiler and released it under a free license. Steve could not have had an Objective-C compiler built on top of it at NeXT. Or what if Chris had not released LLVM under an open license? Now you’re releasing the hier to Objective-C, but you seem to have forgotten the legacy that got you to where you are.I know you must see Swift, like Metal, as a way to make it harder for developers to port their apps to Android, and therefore be forced to make a decision between the two platforms.
These moves will, no doubt, gain iOS more exclusive titles. But only those who lack confidence in their ability to otherwise compete resort to lock-in as a competitive advantage. You don’t need this. You’re better than this. You stand today against Google where you stood a decade ago against Microsoft. They may look unstoppable now, but just as you rode the user wave past Microsoft, you can ride the upcoming privacy wave past Google.
I am a firm believer in open source software, and more importantly open source ideology as a business practice. I think Aral’s group are asking the newly open Apple to go one step further and be open, not in just telling the story, but shaping the technology narrative. It would be fun to see how high Ind.ie’s Phoenix flies!