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The introduction of Tiger by Apple at its Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco this past week offers some telling facts that the open source community is making an impact commercially.

I was briefed by Apple on the client and server versions of the new release of OS X, slated for early 2005, and several features have been driven largely by their open source participation. As most know, the entire Apple kernel for OS X is available via open source as Darwin, and even has an Intel PC port.

Most significant may be the release of Rendezvous for Java, Linux/Unix and Windows. This is a zero-configuration tool for networking that includes network protocols, identification and configuration of devices and services such as printers and local/remote servers, and was based off of open source technology.

Those running mixed environments and programmers using Java will be able to build this same feature set into their tools. As web applications grow more compex and integrated into customer’s local as well as Internet and extranet networks, Rendezvous may be a powerful feature where multiple server discovery or workstation configuration is part of the web apps setup and use.

Tiger also includes improved releases of Apple’s directory services (LDAP), secure authentication (Kerberos), mail server (Postfix), web server (Apache) and many more features, nearly all based on existing open source software.

However, on a separate but related note, something struck me even more when I spoke with Michael Chute, lab manager with the Naval Medical Research Center. Mr. Chute is leading a team that is responsible for developing agents capable of identifying bio weapons in the environment, and additionally cultivating vaccines.

He commented to me that in a review of Linux and Apple cluster solutions for their research (partially web-based), they chose Apple only because of the ease of use and ability to manage in a limited IT environment.

This is often the challenge faced by web designers. We are users who often need powerful hardware and software combinations, again as the web applications we build grow more sophisticated, while not always having advanced system administration capabilities.

Here Linux vendors could take a page from Apple in interface design, especially since Apple’s engineers did build on a Unix kernel.

What is important here is Chute and his team 1) looked exclusively at Apple and Linux, both important players in open source, and 2) completely ignored Microsoft in the equation (not a shock in the scientific sector due to licensing issues) and 3) did not find any flaw in Linux itself, just that the interface for management was not quite there.

This to me is a second ringing endorsement for open source and shows that the largest obstacle will be simpifying the client and server interface to the powerful underlying Linux engine.

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