While it doesn’t have as aggressive a stance against open source as the old Microsoft did, Apple has never really been seen as an open source-friendly company. Which is somewhat ironic considering some of its core foundations are built on open source software, like the BSD kernel and the KHTML engine used by WebKit. So it’s not exactly a small thing, though not exactly huge either, that Apple just released the kernel source code for iOS. What’s more interesting, however, is that Apple also released the source code for macOS kernel for the ARM architecture.
The kernel is the lowest layer in an operating system that orchestrates how a computer runs and how users are able to access hardware resources. But while it is a critical piece of the OS puzzle, a kernel does not an entire user experience make. So, in a way, this open source release of macOS and iOS kernel code will benefit only a small subset of the computing industry.
Besides, Apple has already been releasing the open source code of its macOS, formerly OS X kernel, which was based on Darwin, which, in turn, traces its roots back to the late Jobs’ ill-fated NeXTSTEP operating system and, eventually, to the open source BSD operating system. The new code, however, revolves around the ARM versions of the macOS and iOS kernels.
Considering iOS runs on ARM hardware already, that’s hardly surprising. What’s curious is that macOS apparently has support for ARM as well. After its divorce from the PowerPC computing architecture, Apple has been using Intel’s x86 architecture for its Macs. That it actually can run on ARM is going to raise some eyebrows and maybe ruffle Intel’s feathers a bit.
That said, this doesn’t mean that macOS will soon run on ARM devices. This is only the kernel, after all, and is a very small part of the entire macOS system. It does lay the foundation, however, and could be used as a leverage for bargaining with Intel in the future.