After studying Apple's new source code license, the APSL, I have
concluded that it falls short of being a free software license. It
has three fatal flaws, any of which would be sufficient to make the
software less than free.
Apple has released an updated version, 1.1, of the APSL but it
remains unacceptable. They have changed the termination clause into
a ``suspension'' clause, but it still has the same kind of bad
In January 2001, Apple released another updated version, 1.2, of
the APSL, but it too remains unacceptable. It still has the
requirement that any "deployed" modified version must be published.
So it is still not a free software license.
Disrespect for privacy
The APSL does not allow you to make a modified version and use it
for your own private purposes, without publishing your changes.
Anyone who releases (or even uses, other than for R&D) a
modified version is required to notify one specific organization,
which happens to be Apple.
Possibility of revocation at any time
The termination clause says that Apple can revoke this license, and
forbid you to keep using all or some part of the software, any time
someone makes an accusation of patent or copyright
In this way, if Apple declines to fight a questionable patent
(or one whose applicability to the code at hand is questionable),
you will not be able to have your own day in court to fight it,
because you would have to fight Apple's copyright as well.
Such a termination clause is especially bad for users outside
the US, since it makes them indirectly vulnerable to the insane US
patent system and the incompetent US patent office, which
ordinarily could not touch them in their own countries.
Any one of these flaws makes a license unacceptable.
If these three flaws were solved, the APSL would be a free
software license with three major practical problems, reminiscent
of the NPL:
It is not a true copyleft, because it allows linking with other
files which may be entirely proprietary.
It is unfair, since it requires you to give Apple rights to
your changes which Apple will not give you for its code.
It is incompatible with the GPL.
Of course, the major difference between the NPL and the APSL is
that the NPL *is* a free software license. These problems are
significant in the case of the NPL because the NPL has no fatal
flaws. Would that the same were true of the APSL.
At a fundamental level, the APSL makes a claim that, if it
became accepted, would stretch copyright powers in a dangerous way:
it claims to be able to set conditions for simply *running* the
software. As I understand it, copyright law in the US does not
permit this, except when encryption or a license manager is used to
enforce the conditions. It would be terribly ironic if a failed
attempt at making a free software license resulted in an extension
of the effective range of copyright power.
Aside from this, we must remember that only part of MacOS is
being released under the APSL. Even if the fatal flaws and
practical problems of the APSL were fixed, even if it were changed
into a very good free software license, that would do no good for
the other parts of MacOS whose source code is not being released at
all. We must not judge all of a company by just part of what they
Overall, I think that Apple's action is an example of the
effects of the year-old "open source" movement: of its plan to
appeal to business with the purely materialistic goal of faster
development, while putting aside the deeper issues of freedom,
community, cooperation, and what kind of society we want to live
Apple has grasped perfectly the concept with which "open source"
is promoted, which is "show users the source and they will help you
fix bugs". What Apple has not grasped--or has dismissed--is the
spirit of free software, which is that we form a community to
cooperate on the commons of software.