Macworld points to Apple’s call for submissions of automator actions, spotlight plugins, and dashboard widgets for redistribution from apple.com. (I didn’t expect to love dashboard as much as I do. It’s my favorite feature of Tiger — so many cool and useful add-ins!)
Plug-in architectures are one of the key ways that software companies can create an “architecture of participation.” I’ve long argued that access to source code is only one of the aspects that makes open source software projects tick. The celebrated “right to fork” is a kind of “nuclear option” that protects developers against catastrophic failure in a development ecosystem. In a healthy ecosystem, what’s important is an architecture that makes it easy for developers to extend your platform, building tools that become first class citizens. Linux is so successful as an extensible, organically growing system because it’s a continuation of the original Unix philosophy of cooperating software tools; the internet of cooperating servers is rooted in the same philosophy.
Perl’s usefulness exploded with the availability of CPAN; Firefox’s plug-in architecture is one of its killer advantages. So I’m glad to see Apple creating some platforms that developers can extend in small ways, and what’s more, helping to promote the user-developed extensions by offering them for download from Apple’s site.
Self-promotional aside: Some systems that have a lot of extensions, modules and plug-ins don’t have a good central repository of the work contributed by a community. That’s the idea behind new O’Reilly site CodeZoo. We started by building a component repository, a la CPAN, for open source Java components. As you can imagine, other languages are on the way.