When Will Apple Notice Linux?

by James R. Stoup Jan 06, 2006

One thing has always puzzled me about iTunes, why isn’t it available for Linux? Now, I don’t mean “why doesn’t it run on Linux” (because with some 3rd party emulation it will run just fine) but rather, “why doesn’t Apple support it?”  It seems to me that Apple is missing out on a golden opportunity. The Linux market can be looked upon as an untapped market as far as media goes. You see, if you use Windows you have two choices for purchasing music online, Apple and then everybody else. If you are using a Mac then you just have one choice, Apple. But if you are using Linux, you don’t really have any choices to legally buy and download music do you? (to all of you Linux readers out there, if there is a service out there like that please let me know, I looked but didn’t find any)

If you use Linux, you are left out of the party. Now, I am quite sure that there are more than a few Linux users out there who enjoy listening to music on their computers. And, I am also willing to bet, that they don’t all go out and buy hundreds of CDs to get all of their favorite songs. Let us further assume that they aquire their music in somewhat less than legal means, shall we? If all of that is true, then you have market conditions that looked exactly like those that preceded the ITMS. And since iTunes and its Music Store have been very popular with the general public, why is there any reason to think it won’t be just as popular on the Linux side?

So, when I go to Apple’s site and click on their “download iTunes” link, I want to see three options, one for Mac, one for Windows and one for Linux. Of course, the ramifications of such a move would be tremendous, and I’m not just refering to buying songs, music videos or TV shows. If Apple were to make this move and port iTunes and Quicktime to Linux it would vastly improve Linux’s credibility.

That isn’t to say Linux isn’t credible, it is. But the fact remains that the main software companies out there don’t generally make software for Linux. Adobe doesn’t make any of its graphics tools (Photoshop, Illustrator, etc.) for Linux. I think we can all forget about Microsoft doing anything to help Linux, regardless of how much money it might make them. Broderbund, Corel, Intuit, Blizzard, Seirra and the rest all don’t make Linux compatible products. Why?

Well, there are several reasons, but most of those excuses would disappear if the Linux community could just get one main player on board. If just one recognized Linux as a true player then chances are good the rest will follow. However, just about all of these software developers earn most of their money from applications that run on Microsoft operating systems. So they probably won’t be tripping over themselves to be the first to legitimize Linux. Because if they do there is always the chance that Microsoft might retaliate for such a move, and what company really wants to risk that? Or rather, which company could do it with the least negative reprecussions.

Apple is the logical choice. If they lead the way then the other players can rationalize it by saying “Well, Apple is hot and if they are supporting Linux maybe that is because they see something we don’t. Maybe we should get on-board.” And so if one comes then two will come and then three, then four, till most of the major players are realizing that money can be made selling their products to Linux users.

But wait, before you penguin lovers out there warm up your flamethrowers let me make this one thing clear. I am aware that there are plenty open-source applications that currently fill most of these needs. If you don’t want Photoshop, use GIMP. Don’t want MS Office, use OpenOffice. Don’t like iTunes, use X Multimedia System. Yes, there are free, open source alternatives to proprietary, closed source, actually-cost-money software. I am not disputing this. However I am saying that without the backing or support of the major software companies Linux on the desktop will never reach anything other than its current, uber-geek, niche market. To make it to the big time Linux needs mainstream applications. If for no other reason than to make the transition easier for new users. Instead of forcing them to use the tortured interface that is the GIMP why not let them use Photoshop, since that is what they are comfortable with? It might mean that fewer people use GIMP, but isn’t that an acceptable loss if more people use Linux?

There is, however, another small hurdle to jump before anything like this can happen and that is the philosophical barrier that exist for many Linux users. First, Linux is still seen as a kind of special club for all of the really smart computer users out there. Allowing Adobe & friends to play in their clubhouse kind of reduces the mystique of their little world. So, if the Linux community is really serious about expanding on the desktop then they are going to have to come to terms with the idea that a lot of non-technical, non-programming people will be using Linux. This brings me up to my second point, attitude.

There have been plenty of times that I have encountered the arrogance of the Linux community. It most often comes out as some version of this notion: “if you aren’t smart enougth to use Linux then maybe you should go back to Windows.” Another common attitude is linking “easy to use” with “selling out”. Making software easy to use requires that you limit the number of features, something most die hard Linux advocates are loath to do. And yet it is something that must be done if Linux really wants to reach the masses. So, if the penguin really does want to go mainstream then they are going to need the support of the major software companies and the current Linux user base has to be ready for the impact of the non-technical user. Ubuntu is on the right track as far as this latter point goes, but they still have a long, long way to go.

So, perhaps someone needs to buy Linus Torvalds a plane ticket to Cupertino, California. Who knows, maybe if he asked Steve Jobs nicely if he might consider making iTunes available to three operating systems instead of just two. And maybe then, finally, the ball can start rolling for the Desktop Linux.


  • To WheelDweller, over the years there have been a number of attempts in the UNIX community to get together on a set of standards—but they have all ultimately imploded—and this was before Linux even came on the scene. Also, both UNIX and Linux now refer not to an operating system as such but rather to a family of technologies. Linux itself is a kernel, and others have already mentioned that there are scores of Linux distros on the market—an impossible mine field for a company like Apple to navigate.

    One major problem with your dream is the issue of support. Customers don’t buy OS X as such; rather they buy a product from Apple. And so it goes with Linux—you use Fedora and Red Hat does not offer support for this product. Can you imagine the nightmare to Apple of users seeking support for innumerable permutations of Quartz/Aqua as grafted onto a LInux configuration?

    Have you heard of anyone calling the developers of KDE or Gnome directly for support—or calling MIT for support of X11? So who will support these computers of yours? The manufacturer? Will Dell, HP, and all the no-name brands give adequate support to Apple software?

    I just don’t see your dream as practical. A high level of Posix compliance is the most we can hope for with OS X—and we have it.

    If it’s any consolation, with Intel’s virtualization technology, we might one day have a Mac which can run OS X, Windows Vista, and Linux in separate cpu and memory partitions CONCURRENTLY—without rebooting. If true, that would be pretty nifty, eh?

    Jeff Mincey had this to say on Jan 06, 2006 Posts: 74
  • Ya know, the castle walls can’t look like playing cards until you stand on the edges.  You’re applying old-world, corporate mindsets to something that has *already* shown itself.  Let me see if I can express it differently.

    What Apple owner bought *BSD? Did that owner specify that he wanted NetBSD, or OpenBSD? (No distro choice, aye?)

    Linux soars because it’s one, single kernel- not seven forks.  Linux learned from BSD which learned from Commercial Unix what was wrong. AT&T managed to take the great idea of Unix, and in 10 years of commercialization, drive it right into the ground.  Linux, with it’s openness, corrects all these problems.

    Start with the Linux kernel. Maybe with a Debian distro (I kinda like Ubuntu but no matter).  Move OS/X there, and start porting around it.  Package it up, call it “Mac OS/11” and start selling it.

    This is all they did to put it on *BSD!

    Otherwise, (snicker if you will) Apple will lose to Linux, in the long run.  There’s no way to stop it.  Trust me on this; I’ve seen a lot in the last 27 years.

    WheelDweller had this to say on Jan 07, 2006 Posts: 7
  • WheelDweller ... I want whatever drugs you’re doing.

    I bought a PowerBook specifically *because* it is FreeBSD under the hood and it is a damn fine laptop to boot.

    Linux? Oh, puleeeeeeeeeeez. Package management is a fucking nightmare, I can’t run half the multimedia applications (Oh!! Let’s get Xine to compile on this distro!), etc.

    Fuck it.

    I am SO DONE with Linux on laptops ....

    (oh, but I must nod in your direction. the registration system on this site SUX)

    tvilot had this to say on Jan 07, 2006 Posts: 2
  • To WheelDweller, you fail to make the case (at least to me) as to what problem we are trying to solve with OS X. What you propose above strikes me like a solution in search of a problem.

    I fail to see how Linux is any more “open” than Apple’s Darwin operating system is. Darwin is based on the Xnu kernel which itself is taken from the Mach kernel and FreeBSD kernel. Darwin also includes components of NetBSD as well. It is entirely open, and the source code is freely available. Moreover, Apple adheres to the terms and conditions of the GPL.

    It is Darwin which is comparable to Linux. But are kernel-based operating systems which run the full set of UNIX/GNU command shells and X11 (X Windows) with any number of window managers—such as KDE and Gnome (among others).

    OS X is a superset of Darwin; it adds the HFS+ journaled file system, the Quartz graphics layer, and the Aqua window manager and GUI API’s (among other things). The fact that this last part of OS X is proprietary takes nothing away from the reality that most of OS X is truly open—just as Linux is open.

    Suppose someone were to take Linux and then add to it a proprietary graphics subsystem and window manager—while keeping all the rest of it open. Would this SUBTRACT from the openness of Linux? If so, this is very curious mathematics.

    You say Apple will lose to Linux unless it moves from a BSD base to Linux, but you fail to make the case. Especially now that Apple is migrating to the Intel hardware platform, your contention is much less convincing. Apple’s developer community has greatly expanded from what it once was (prior to OS X), and if you go to any Linux developer conference, you will see more Powerbook laptops than you will see of ANY other kind of laptop.

    Jeff Mincey had this to say on Jan 07, 2006 Posts: 74
  • In my post above, I use the phrase, “But are kernel-based operating systems…” and this is a typo. It should read, “BOTH are kernel-based…” but this forum has no edit facility.

    Jeff Mincey had this to say on Jan 07, 2006 Posts: 74
  • You guys seem to have been elsewhere as all this happened; I’ll try to fill you in as best I can.

    Darwin is being supported by a company, right?  If that company folds, or starts to show much promise, it will belong to Microsoft. (Just ask IBM)  Otherwise it’s like a fork of Linux- a competitor.

    Linux is owned by us; that’s why SCO Systems, with a $150M boost from Microsoft tried so hard to kill it in court, but can’t.  Bill sees this in his nightmares- code that he can’t kill. That’s got to keep him up at night.

    And tons of development is going on with Linux; in this last year it nailed 1/4 of all the “Smart phones” in production.  From iPod-knock-offs to mainframes, LinkSys routers, DishNetwork PVRs; this is going wide, right now- it’s not slowing down.

    Did ya notice that Sun, selling (what amounts to) a PC running Unix, for about $10,000 is now almost dead?  When you can replace their functionality for a couple hundred dollars and still get the stability, Sun isn’t so interesting anymore.

    It doesn’t help that Sun IGNORED Linux, despite it’s close simularities and bashed it for a while- obviously, they weren’t paying attention.  Neither did SCO Systems, but both of these weren’t in direct competition.  Both are on the ropes.

    Mac isn’t in close competition, either.  But if someone spends the money to make something as smooth operating and slick sitting on top of Linux, and sells it like Apple….what’s Apple got left to sell?  Again, great hardware and good tech support, for a machine costing lots more.

    Linux people are kinda some of the most accepting folks you’ll find.  There was support for AppleTalk before Apple got serious about TCP/IP. Support for the PowerPC (YellowDog distro) came up spuriously- not at a board of director’s meeting.  There’s no corporate boundaries to trip over.  Every keystroke I know works the same on YellowDog (PPC) as it does on Fedora(x86 & x86_64).  No re-training.

    If Apple is, as y’all maintain, the target for what people want, Linux is headed there.  And unlike Apple (or any corporation I’ve seen so far) they don’t ever have to trash an entire OS release to do something new. (See Win95/98/2K/NT/XP) they just keep re-using code because it’s woven to our collective will, as it’s built.

    That puts Apple “on the tracks” in front of Linux, at some point.  Heads in the sand don’t change anything.  Right now the time is right for moving, before the next Intel and the next Microsoft are born.

    (And yeah, I’m told that Laptop support is poor for Linux; outside of NDISWRAPPER, the only alternative is to buy the supported hardware.  NDAs- gotta love’em. It’s the law!)

    WheelDweller had this to say on Jan 07, 2006 Posts: 7
  • Well, we all have our views on this. I think you tend to romaticize Linux. I DO understand the fault line you are trying to draw between corporate control and the open source community, but, again, I just don’t find that you make your case. Specific implementations of Linux are indeed owned by corporations—and these include proprietary installers, imaging and backup software, and other utilities. Red Hat owns a Linux distro, Novell owns SuSE, and so on. Last time I checked, these were corporations.

    Now you might say the underlying Linux _technology_ itself or the kernel is indeed open source. But try applying any change to the kernel without the consent of Torvolds—and see what happens. Torvolds is the Steve Jobs of Linux; if he doesn’t want something in the kernel, it ain’t going into the kernel—full stop.

    Also, I don’t agree with you that Linux has greater numbers than Macintosh—on the consumer desktop. As a server OS, Linux surely exists in greater numbers because it is largely free (or can be obtained for a nominal cost)—but even there, increasingly the larger companies would prefer to pay for robust and reliable technical support and customer service. The cowboy days of Linux are largely over as the platform tries to mature.

    Don’t make the mistake that because Linux isn’t controlled by a SINGLE company it is therefore “owned by the public.” Each distro is owned or controlled by a specific corporation or organization. Also, it’s really GNU which is open, for as I say above, the Linux kernel itself is under strict control by Torvolds—except for the proprietary changes a few companies make to their own distros.

    Don’t get me wrong; I want to see Linux succeed. I’m a proponent of the entire UNIX/LINUX family. I just don’t romanticize it quite as much as some do, and I don’t think Linux has a corner on the open-source market. There ARE other open-source operating systems, and, frankly, I would rather use BSD on a server than Linux right now because I regard BSD as generally more stable and secure.

    Jeff Mincey had this to say on Jan 07, 2006 Posts: 74
  • Linux talk.. *yawn*

    Martijn ten Napel had this to say on Jan 07, 2006 Posts: 6
  • (Enjoy the yawn.  Sun did.  SCO, too.)

    You still don’t have the emersion down quite right. These are _distros_ owned by corporations.  Apple can have one too.  The kernel changes can be made, sure.  If it’s something stupid like putting floating point comparisons in there, you’ll be forking instead of developing, sure.

    Did you know I haven’t fiddled with kernel compliation in at least five years?  I haven’t had to open a tarball in about as long.  It’s all, already there.

    If you’re serious about some kind of kernel change, there are alternatives like modules. Or make your case the the kernel crew; heck if it’s compelling enough you might get them to add it on the next release.

    Just how many changes to the Apple kernels have you successfully gotten through?

    I’m tellin’ ya; this is different.  Like it or not, it’s not goin’ back into the egg.

    WheelDweller had this to say on Jan 07, 2006 Posts: 7
  • This is all very nice and dandy (on an academic level) but nobody has yet offered any compelling reason why Apple should port their technologies over to Linux in the first place.

    What would be in it for them to justify the added costs of human resources and logistics? Money? Hardly, given the mindset of the large majority of the shlasdot-crowd that software should be free as in beer. (This mindset is not unknown among Mac-users by the way. Remember all the bitching and moaning when Apple started to charge money for QuicktimePro?) Respect? That’s nothing you can take to the Bank (just ask Micro$oft). Brand Awareness? Couldn’t get any higher as it is right now. Linux-users are, as opposed to the average Windows-user, quite well informed. They already know about Apple. Some of them even post on Apple-centric newssites wink

    Anything I have left out?

    Jens_T had this to say on Jan 07, 2006 Posts: 11
  • Forgot to mention iTunes. Come on, does anyone believe that Linux-users would actually pay for DRM-encumbered music in a proprietary format?

    Jens_T had this to say on Jan 07, 2006 Posts: 11
  • WheelDweller,

    While you do make some interesting points about Linux, its future and its relationship to OS X, I feel that you have been swept up in the “Linux Revolution” and as such are seeing things with rose-colored glasses on. Remember, eventually revolutions have to settle down and become governments.

    Let me try and further explain my point as it relates to your posts. By it self, Linux on the desktop will never happen. Thus, I was suggesting a way that Apple could help it along. By the way, I have already conceded that Linux does very well on cell phones, routers, servers, dishwashers, etc. But we aren’t talking about that. We are talking about Linux for “normal people”. Linux for the common man. Linux that is easy enough to use so that an average American consumer can pick it up, install it and be at least as productive with it as they would be with Windows.

    Currently, however, this is just a dream. And it will continue to be a dream forever because of the inherent problems associated with Open Source.

    Now, I like open source, I really do. The notion that I could get great software for free, and then modify it to my heart’s content is a thrilling idea, if I am a business man. With lots of very smart programmers working for me.

    But that big benefit is lost to your average consumer, they don’t want to recompile their software, they just want it to work. They like the fact that it is free, but they really need just two things: software that is easy to use and software that comes with good support.

    Congratulations, Linux on the desktop COMPLETELY fails on those two key goals. And please don’t argue with me about the ease of use of Linux. If you have to recompile anything, edit a config file using a text editor, or even dream about touching the command line then you have just shot “ease of use” out the window.

    But back to what I was saying about the inherent problems of open source. You can somewhat think of the OS community as the only working Socialist community ever created. You can think of a corporation as a Monarchy.

    In OS everything is free (which is good) but everyone does their own thing (which is bad, from the perspective of the Linux-on-the-desktop crowd). RedHat uses different package managers than SUSE, Debian doesn’t do things quite like Xandros, and then just for fun you have this ever-raging battle between KDE and Gnome. It is chaos. Now, it is free chaos that you are welcome to change as you see fit, but chaos it remains. There is no central driving force in the Linux community. Now, there are central forces in each one of the distributions, but not for Linux as a whole. That is why there aren’t any real standards. Several companies have tried to get other distros to support one, central standard but those attempts always end in bickering and nothing gets done. So, why the open source community enjoys the benefits of socialism (which there are many) the inherent disorganization is while Linux won’t ever be a threat to Apple on the desktop.

    Now take Apple, the corporation, the monarchy. When Steve Jobs wants a feature in OS X he doesn’t post his request to the forums, he doesn’t email the main programmers and asks nicely if they would get around to coding this, he says “I want feature X working in 3 months.” And guess what, feature X is working in 3 months. Now, Apple doesn’t have 3 million users testing feature X for flaws like Linux does, but they do have a leader who can drive them forward to an ultimate goal (something Linux lacks).

    So, in wrapping this up I find it quite laughable when you say that Linux is on a head-on collision with Mac. If they are I hope they watch out because it is going to hurt a lot when they collide with reality. They are doing just fine in markets where they have highly technical people using their products, but they are failing and will continue to fail, in markets where support and ease of use are paramount.

    James R. Stoup had this to say on Jan 07, 2006 Posts: 122
  • James, is it me or have you not—in your last post immediately above—just given an excellent argument against the recommendations you make in your original article above (which has spawned this thread).

    In your article, you ask why Apple has failed to notice Linux and why it doesn’t port iTunes and QuickTime (among other applications and technologies) to the Linux platform. Well, read your post above for an excellent answer to that question.

    Jeff Mincey had this to say on Jan 07, 2006 Posts: 74
  • > please don’t argue with me about the ease of use of Linux.

    I don’t blame you - you’ll lose big-time.

    But before you respond, PLEASE try this. THEN try to tell me with a straight face that Linux is “hard to use”.

    1) Click here (https://shipit.ubuntu.com/) to request a free Linux CD. Won’t cost you a penny. Works on MAC hardware or a standard or 64-bit PC.

    2) When it arrives, insert the CD into a computer and reboot. Follow the directions. Trust me, it’s EASIER than getting an account on Apple Matters!

    3) Click Applications -> Internet -> FireFox Web Browser, log into Apple Matters, and tell me what you think.

    Now wasn’t that easy?  Not a single compile, not a single text file, not a single scary command line to turn your hairs gray.  That went out YEARS ago!

    Need an application not already installed (*gasp*)?  Click Applications -> Add Applications, then click on what you want - it will install itself in a couple of minutes (with broadband). Not a compile or command line in SIGHT.

    I’ve done it hundreds of times, my friend. It’s EASIER than the proprietary option. PLEASE try it before you make silly claims like modern Linux is “too hard for a normal user”.

    > That is why there aren’t any real standards.

    X (I mean Windows, not OS grin )? Kernel? Gcc? OOo? Mozilla? I honestly can’t imagine what you mean. Linux is simply RIFE with (real) standards! (By real, I intend to compare with “de facto” standards aka Apple or Microsoft.)

    In fact, Linux is so standards-based that Microsoft is shipping some open source standard IMPLEMENTATIONS in their current Vista beta - they didn’t believe they could accurately reproduce those standards in proprietary code.

    > When Steve Jobs wants a feature in OS X ... he says “I want feature X working in 3 months.”

    When Michael Carmony wanted Click’n'Run Warehouse in his Linux OS (http://Linspire.com), he didn’t have to do any of the things you listed, either. He said “I want that in 3 months.” Got it, too.

    Or did you think that only millionaires who own *proprietary* operating system products could do such things???

    > ...they are failing and will continue to fail, in markets where support and ease of use are paramount.


    I’m a computer systems designer by trade, and customer support is a big part of my work.

    My company did a compiler evaluation a few years back for a Customer. The Customer provided support contracts for 4 compilers - 3 commercial (about $100,000 each with a cal-in number) and 1 open source (about $2,000 but email only).

    Average response time for the 3 commercial companies was about 3 hours. Average time to patch about 4 days.

    Average response time for the open source company was under 6 *minutes*.  Average time to patch was just under 1 hour.

    My experiences with open source companies have generally been much better than with proprietary companies, though of course not always.

    Some open source products are clearly rising in the market - say for example, FireFox (about 10% share thus far). And I can now buy Linux PCs at Fry’s, Walmart and other major retailers.

    But only time will tell if the outcome your predict is correct, or simply words that will choke going down. grin

    George F. Rice had this to say on Jan 07, 2006 Posts: 25
  • George, I would be interested in your answer to this question: What does any Linux distro offer (as part of the OS) which sets it apart favorably in your view from OS X. Now for purposes of this question, I define OS in loose technical terms to be not only the kernel but also all subsystems thereto, such as I/O, file system, device drivers, hardware abstraction, graphics and GUI APIs, window managers, command shells, developer tools, etc. And I exclude (for this question) bundled applications (such as iTunes).

    I ask because it seems to me that by and large OS X includes everything you cite as an advantage with Linux—except for the kernel. Now if you truly want this discussion to be about the merits of the Linux kernel vis-a-vis the merits of Xnu and Mach, feel free. Otherwise, however, let me point out that OS X includes the full bundle of GNU tools—including developer tools, text editors, compilers, etc. It includes X11. It does not include (but it can run) KDE and Gnome). It includes such common parts of Linux distros as Apache, sendmail, postfix, ssh, telnet, ftp, imap, ldap, vi, emacs, MySQL, php, Java, ruby, perl, python, NFS, SMB/CIFS, etc. (I could go on and on with this.)

    OS X includes the standard UNIX command shells such as Korn, Bash, and many others.

    In fact, OS X has more claim to the UNIX family that Linux does—because at least OS X is a derivative of the BSD branch on the UNIX tree. In contrast, Linux is a whole new kernel altogether and the GNU tools had to be ported over to it.

    So please make the case that Linux is offering something to the consumer—or indeed even the developer—that OS X sorely lacks.

    While you ponder that question, let me say I must take issue that Linux has attained an ease of use sufficient for it to join other consumer desktop platforms. Good luck having an ordinary user configure a Linux computer for use with third-party devices such as cameras, scanners, printers, cell phones, etc. Linux has made great strides in this area but still doens’t measure up just yet. (I hope one day it will do so.)

    Also, I don’t expect the hapless end user to be able to navigate the dizzying array of Linux distro choices on the market. For any operating system to meet the standard of a consumer desktop platform, it must have provision for prompt, regular automatic security updates. Many Linux distros fail by this measure alone.

    But getting back to my original question, what do you find lacking in OS X that Linux brings to the table? Also, do you think Apple should invest in porting its proprietary software (such as iTunes, Quicktime, Safari, etc) over to Linux? If so, why?

    Jeff Mincey had this to say on Jan 07, 2006 Posts: 74
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