December 1, 2000

Developer wants to create GPL version of Apple's Darwin

Author: JT Smith

- By Grant Gross -

Envisioning a bumper sticker saying "FREE Darwin," a long-time Macintosh fan and developer has launched a project to create a GNU General Public License version of the Apple-published BSD named after the father of evolution.

Michael L. Love, a post-doctoral associate in the molecular biology and genetics department of Cornell University in upstate New York, announced the project this week. It's hosted on SourceForge.

"[The Apple Public Source License] is very restrictive compared to GPL, and the software will not be truly free until Darwin itself is GPL'd," says Love, known as proclus online. "I am somewhat negotiable on this point, because the BSD folks have some good licenses, too."

Although Darwin, the BSD foundation for Apple's OS X, remains under the Apple license, Love hopes his project can work on porting the vast library of free software to Darwin. "The business of the [GNU] distribution is to port free software to Darwin so that the GUI and the tools, such as gtk-gnutella and the GIMP, will be GPL," he says. "GNU-Darwin will be about having a Darwin distribution that is as free as possible. GNU-Darwin is Darwin itself, but overlaid with free software."

So Love says his project will abide by the conditions of the Apple license, and he says he'll be an advocate for the Apple license "until Apple sees fit to FREE Darwin."

"Personally, I consider GPL as the ideal and I think that the notion of a GNU-Darwin
reflects that," he adds. "Free software is stepping out to the front in so many ways now ... I feel that Apple must free Darwin in order to keep up in the industry."

Rob Braun, a Darwin developer and contributing author to the Unix System Administration Handbook, Third Edition, has talked to Love about the project, which seems OK," but he sees some potential for licensing conflict. "I think we need to look into the licensing issues a bit more," Braun says.

Braun also is concerned about the GNU-Darwin project sending code changes back to Darwin's package maintainers, and he's "a bit disappointed" that Love hasn't done so yet.

But Love says GNU-Darwin does not yet modify the Darwin source base. "Rather, I have ported free software to Darwin OS," he says. "I have notified most of the package maintainers of the ports, and I plan to submit my changes to the respective free software projects as soon as they are ready so that they can be merged with the core code base."

If the project makes changes to Darwin -- one might be to implement Beowulf-style clustering -- it will make the changes available to the Darwin project, he says.

Love, a protein crystallographer, became interested in Macintoshes during college, and has never been a Windows or DOS user. He has helped people in his field get their labs working and saw Linux being used "about two years before Red Hat's IPO."

"I realized at that time that I needed to learn system administration under Linux in
order to help my clients and my future employers, as well," he says. "I was lucky
that I had already learned Unix (Irix and Ultrix) as part of my crystallographic pursuits." He first experimented with Linux and OpenBSD m68k, and after he owned his first PowerMac, he made LinuxPPC his operating system.

When Apple announced that an Open Source BSD would be used to create OS X, Love immediately registered on the Darwin site. "When Darwin 1.2 was released, there was some talk of community distributions, and I thought, 'Why not?' " he says.

So far, the GNU-Darwin project is in its infancy, and Love was the lone developer listed on its SourceForge page Friday afternoon. "I will be happy to carry forward the distribution on my
own at this time, until I get too busy elsewhere, or until I am joined by others," he says.

Love is already using Darwin as his primary OS, and he expects scientists who love Apple to flock to the Open Source Darwin X11 interface, instead of OS X, which they've found unimpressive, he says. "Other GPL interfaces are also available for Darwin, and they may even
do much better," he says. "Clearly, GNU-Darwin could play a major role in the adoption of free software among Apple's users, if it wins some support in the Darwin Community."

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