Apple deepens its open source credentials

By Marilyn de Villiers
Johannesburg, 31 Jul 2019

It’s taken a year, but Apple has finally joined forces with Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Twitter in an open source project that aims to make it easy for individuals and companies to transfer data between different online and cloud services.

The Data Transfer Project (DTP) was launched in July last year “to create an open source, service-to-service data portability platform so that all individuals across the web (can) easily move their data between online service providers wherever they want,” according to the DTP mission statement.

DTP contributors believe portability and interoperability are central to innovation; and that making it easier for individuals to choose among services facilitates competition, empowers individuals to try new services and enables them to choose the offering that best suits their needs.

Effectively, DTP will extend data portability beyond downloading a copy of your data from your service provider, to providing you with the ability to directly transfer data in and out of any participating provider while simultaneously reducing the infrastructure burden on service providers.

“Ultimately, this could mean a situation were an Android user moving to iOS could request to port their customer data over from Google’s services, including Play, to Apple’s servers,” the DTP explains on its Web site.

However, until this week, Apple was not part of the project.

At present, anyone wanting to move their personal data from one service to another, would have to use the different export tools offered by each company, such as Apple’s Data and Privacy portal. However, the data provided would not be offered in a way that could be immediately used by another service.

While DTP is still in development, there is already code that works for a variety of situations,  thanks to the input of 18 contributors from partners and the open source community. Between them, they have inserted more than 42 000 lines of code and changed more than 1 500 files.

Apple’s got work to do

Apple’s decision to join the DTP follows the June announcement from the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), the home of open source projects like Kubernetes, that the company – which is notoriously close-lipped about its open source activities – was joining its ranks as a top-level Platinum End User Member.

CNCF end-user members are generally organisations that are heavy users of open source cloud native technologies that are looking to give back to the community.

However, while Apple is believed to be a heavy open source consumer, it has a reputation for keeping most of its code proprietary. This has slowly and quietly been changing in the last while, but the open source community has either not heard, or remains unconvinced, and Apple’s reputation that its developers are not active in contributing code back into the community remains intact. 

A March 2018 survey of 4 300 developers conducted by DigitalOcean, indicated that Apple lagged way behind the other big tech companies – Microsoft, Google, Amazon and Facebook – in terms of which tech companies were perceived to be “embracing open source the most”. 

With Google garnering 53% of the respondents’ votes and Microsoft’s 23%, Apple came in with a lowly 1%. Facebook and Amazon won the votes of 10% and 4% of respondents respectively.