Why Apple's open source move for Swift is a masterstroke

Apple's Swift programming language was announced last year, and the company made it open source this year.

Published Date
09 - Jun - 2015
| Last Updated
10 - Jun - 2015
 
Why Apple's open source move for Swift is a masterstroke

Let’s face it, the biggest announcement for developers yesterday, was Apple making its Swift programming language open source. Announced in WWDC 2014, Swift was Apple’s effort at providing an alternative to Objective C, which is said to lack features of other modern programming languages. This year, the company announced new features for Swift, while also making it open source.

What does this mean?

For the uninitiated, in Apple’s case, this not only means that anyone can access it, but they can use Swift to write apps for OS X and iOS devices on a Linux-driven machine.

You see, when Google brings open source software, it’s not surprising, even Microsoft doesn’t exactly surprise with such a move, but Apple? It’s a big deal when a company that is otherwise known for its closed ecosystem, makes something as important as Swift open source. It points towards a change in the thinking within Apple. By opening the source code, Apple is going to attract a sea of new developers into the language, who can then make additions to it. The rate of growth will be much higher than it currently is.

Even so, some would say it isn’t a surprise, since a programming language needs to be open source in order to be popular. Therein lies the next part of this article.

Why is Apple making Swift open source?

To clarify, Apple is making Swift’s libraries and compiler for OS X, iOS and Linux open source. Why is it doing so? The most obvious reason is to get developers to write using the language. The Cupertino-based company already has a lot of takers for Swift, thanks to its uber popular App Store. In a recent survey by Stack Overflow, it was found that Swift is the most loved programming language amongst developers, getting votes from 78% of the 26,086 developers polled, from 157 countries.

"We think Swift is the next big programming language, the one that we'll all be doing application and system programming on for 20 years to come," said Crag Federeghi, SVP of software engineering at Apple. It’s actually more than just a random quote from an executive. Apple is not only looking for greater adoption of the language, but by going open source, Apple is no doubt also hoping it would seep into other platforms, particularly Android.

This is where an Apple fanboy would jump at the opportunity and talk about Apple’s innovative thinking. It’s really not new though, think back to Microsoft’s .NET platform, it’s already been done. The development of a language can see a manifold increase when it is open source, and it can percolate into other platforms.

The all important developers

If only it were as simple as written above. I saw a tweet last night, after the keynote at WWDC 2015 ended, which commented on how there wasn’t a single line of code in the keynote. Indeed there wasn’t, and the reason for that is the advent of live streaming and a much larger audience have made events like Google’s I/O, Apple’s WWDC and Microsoft’s BUILD, more than just developer conferences.

But, no platform can survive without developers, Windows for phones is exhibit A for that. Making your software open source is Apple’s way of telling developers that they care. As mentioned above, developers can use Linux PCs to build apps for iOS and OS X devices now. Apple announced 100 billion app downloads last night, and that is only possible with lots of developers developing apps for you. While iOS already has a healthy number of developers working on apps, open sourcing this system will bring more. In addition, it will drive developers to build for OS X, bringing it closer to Microsoft’s Windows in the PC ecosystem. Believe it or not, Apple would like that.

Prasid BanerjeePrasid Banerjee

Trying to explain technology to my parents. Failing miserably.