Apple’s open sourced Swift could change everything

Apple's "life support" period appears to be over...

Apple has told us it intends making Swift 2.0 open source “later this year”, a move some developers are calling “monumental”, a “huge milestone in the evolution of the programming industry.”

Swift move

If you’ve been sleeping, Swift is Apple’s modern programming language that lets developers build OS X and iOS apps. It seems likely it will eventually replace Objective C and already creates more stable code in shorter development cycles than the language it is destined to replace – Swift offers numerous advantages.

Apple’s plan to make the software open source means the company will offer ports for OS X, iOS and Linux, and the code will also include the Swift compiler and standard library. “We think it would be amazing for Swift to be on all your favorite platforms,” said Apple, announcing its plans.

Developers love it

Swift is the most-loved programming language of 2015, according to a survey on StackOverflow.

Vine, LinkedIn, Getty Images, Slack, Dow Jones, Playlist Media and Yahoo all use Swift. Ride-sharing app, Lyft rewrote its entire app with it and says the app it created has “only about one-fifth the number of lines of code as its previous iteration, and subsequent updates will also take less time.”(Bloomberg).

In just a few months the language is proving popular. The Tiobe Index calls Swift one of the Internet’s 15 most popular languages; ThoughtWorks Technology Radar says Swift is a language the industry should be adopting. Another firm, PerfectlySoft, Is working on a Perfect, a solution that enables developers to make use of Swift in data centers.

Interest is also confirmed by a recent move to create an open source Mandarin Chinese translation of Swift. The project took 100 volunteer programmers one year.

Secret weapon

There are further possibilities, this article explains the potential developers will be able to tweak Swift to run and build software for other platforms.

“Now that the language has opened up, it can be forked in ways that allow Swift to be used elsewhere. Maybe in the future, Swift will be used for Windows applications, server daemons, or client-side web apps,” the report explains.

If this happens and developers do begin using Swift to build software for other platforms then it seems logical to expect even more software for Macs and iPhones.

This could lend momentum to Apple’s intention to define the technology ecosystem. Apple has forever been castigated as being a bit part player in the wider technology marketplace, but this is no longer true. Apple’s solutions are enterprise class; iMacs are growing market share while iOS devices define expectations at the premium end of the industry.

Staggering ambition

Might Apple have a wider ambition? One in which its language becomes a viable contender for the creation of software for multiple platforms, not just its own?

"We think Swift is the next big programming language," Apple exec Craig Federighi said at WWDC 2015. "The one we will be doing application and systems programming on for 20 years to come,” he added. “We think Swift should be everywhere and used by everyone,” he promised.

Android developers may even be able to create apps for both mobile platforms with Swift. Far fetched? Not really, ArcTouch last year wrote a proof-of-concept calculator app for both Android and iOS using Swift.

Joining the dots and the scale of Apple’s ambition remains staggering. Apple is defining expectations and the environment of this new chapter in the digital era. If you want to learn more about the language you can download The Swift Programming Language from the iBooks Store for free.

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Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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