Just recently, Apple made an announcement that seemed like an early Christmas present for app developers: Apple's Swift programming language was going open source, which means a popular new tool for development is now a lot more available. Perhaps one of the happiest to hear about it was IBM, as Apple's open sourcing gives IBM—and Apple itself—great new opportunities to get in with large companies.
Open sourcing, for those not familiar, will essentially throw open the doors to the Swift language for anyone to download, study, change and create tools with. It takes a lot of patent and copyright headache out of the picture and gives more users access than would have been had before.
With Swift now an open source tool, users can put it to work in developing for not just iOS apps, but also for other operating systems. In fact, it's already being put to work for Linux, and that's the part that's got IBM very interested. Apple and IBM have worked together before—most notably as part of the IBM MobileFirst project— so Apple open sourcing Swift gives IBM a lot of room to run. Swift working on Linux means new server apps, and that opens up the floodgates to uses beyond the consumer app.
This is also a stance that helps Apple. If places like IBM start using Apple's programming language to give server apps a boost, that means a potential for more enterprise-oriented iOS development. Corporate developers tend to prefer working with apps that work on servers, like Java and C++. If Swift starts working well for servers—which it likely will with IBM working on developing in Swift—then that improves the likelihood of Swift apps in place at server level, and more iPads and iPhones sold at the enterprise level to work with it. IBM has already developed 100 Swift apps for business, and all of this is set to come back to the developer community.
Open source spurs development, and allows products to branch out in ways that were never really expected. As innovative and powerful in development as a company may be, sometimes it takes a fresh face and a small developer to spot some real world-changing opportunity. For Apple to throw open the doors on Swift means a lot of new potential development. Though Apple and IBM were already pretty well-represented at the enterprise level, this may make the duo every bit as ubiquitous as Microsoft.
While open sourcing a project doesn't always work, a project like Swift going open source can be a major development. With 100 apps already poised for release, and likely plenty more to follow, Swift could be one of the biggest things to hit 2016 before it even starts.