Disclaimer: I am not an artist, I apologize for the abhorrence that is the header image of this post.
It’s no question that Apple’s App Store for iOS, and more recently for Mac, is a monstrous force to be reckoned with. With almost 80 million iPhones, 13 million iPads and more than 5 million Macs sold during the first fiscal quarter of 2017, the App Store is where you want to place your app to get a large amount of notoriety. The problems, however, start to pop up when you’re developing free/libre and open-source software (FLOSS). Putting your app on the App Store doesn’t seem so trivial in the end in the FLOSS community, and may leave your pocket emptier than you originally thought. The ramifications continue when you ponder the fact that most open-source projects have at least one or more individuals contributing that aren’t necessarily part of the core development team. Finally, the ethical implications of such an endeavor are most apparent when thinking about the greater good as well as the ideology that Apple peddles.
The appeal may be obvious when you’re actually selling, rather than simply distributing, your app through the App Store. This appeal seems to magically disappear the moment you’re not making money off of said app. Apple, unsurprisingly, charges developers a fee to distribute their app on the App Store. Apple’s fee is 99USD per developer account before you’ve even submitted your app for review by Apple’s testing team; this price is per year. If you’re an enterprise looking to distribute your apps through a closed ecosystem, you’ve gotta fork over 299USD a year. Already, as an individual, you start off with $99 less in your pocket for little reason other than to line the pockets of Apple executives.
If your project makes money elsewhere, for example in enterprise support, the more power to you to put your app in Apple’s walled garden. Be wary, however, that your project may be seen in a different light if you’re seen associating with one of the enemies of open-source and free software. Apple’s proven time and time again that they’re more than happy to take the works of a community and use it for their own benefit behind closed doors; and while Google has a developer’s fee as well, in my opinion, they’re much less of an enemy to the open-source community and the projects within it.
A common theme among open-source projects is that the community can modify and redistribute the software. Users of the applications can submit their own fixes, modifications or new features and let the whole community benefit from this contribution. Aside from the creator of individual projects, there’s never really a leader in any given open-source project and as such, there isn’t any so-called ‘fight for power’. This could certainly change should somebody who is not part of the core developer’s team register their personal account with Apple to distribute this open-source project under their name. At this point you’ve selfishly appointed yourself the leader, making the community question who to turn to in times of despair.
Of course, a power struggle ensues and visions become distorted. With disputes, such as who the leader is, taking place deep within the community of a FLOSS project, people can become further disoriented or even disinterested in the project in the end. Any partners of the project may see this power struggle and other disputes as a source of instability or see it as immaturity and be less inclined to work with the developers of said project. The project further spirals downward because of other unrelated issues that already existed within the community and the whole system plunges into chaos.
All this is only an issue if you’re present for such disputes to take place. Another issue with personally taking accountability for the app is that you’re the single point of failure when people are looking for the updated binary from the project. As soon as the latest press release is published, you’re in hot water if you’re not ready to hit the upload/save/whatever button in the same moment. Now users are angry, they’re sending you emails, you’re trying your best but you just can’t get the webpage to load, more emails are coming your way, you’re trying to reply to some of them but that stupid web page still won’t open and it just becomes a vicious cycle that no one person should have to deal with alone. You’re better off leaving it to the community to compile and sideload after they’ve jailbroken their iDevice or install to their Mac.
We forgot though, that if it’s open-source, anybody can compile their own version to be uploaded to the App Store. But then we’re presented with another issue and a half. We could either all upload the binaries in the same developer account and share the password, email, contact, iCloud storage, and a whole slew of privacy issues or we could all make our own developer accounts and upload the binaries individually. If we didn’t think of that before, well we weren’t even thinking. Except, if eighteen community members are paying their developer’s account fees well that is one thousand seven hundred eighty-two dollars being paid directly to Apple.
That’s one thousand seven hundred eighty-two dollars that could have gone towards the funding of the open-source project in the first place. This would much more directly benefit the project than having the app hosted on Apple’s servers. This money going to Apple would also be sending the message that the project’s team believes in Apple as a company and their model of running a business, which is almost the complete opposite of what the open-source community spirit it.
This, all this, is just a preface to the main argument that open-source software, especially that of the free/libre category, wholly does not belong on Apple’s App Store, nor their Mac App store for that matter. It’s not ethical on several counts and most counts relate to the concepts of the greater good (utilitarianism) and selfishness (egoism).
Of course, this topic is wide open for discussion. Feel free to dispute or discuss anything I’ve written here down below in the comments. I know it’s a long read, but I hope you enjoyed reading what I’ve written here. Any feedback is appreciated!