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Has Apache lost its way?

Serdar Yegulalp | Aug. 27, 2013
Complaints of stricture over structure, signs of technical prowess on the wane -- the best days of the Apache Software Foundation may be behind

The ASF's open source niche
The answer, of course, is that it depends on the project.

"ASF and open source in general are best suited for wide-ranging platform-type technologies," says Hadoop PMC chair Murthy. "These are the foundational elements of a development and infrastructure community. Some of the most successful Apache projects have been foundations or infrastructure."

Rob Davies, currently of Red Hat and a member of the PMC for Apache Camel, Apache ActiveMQ, and Apache ServiceMix projects, had the latter two projects moved under the wings of the ASF in 2005 "because we wanted to build a larger community, and at the time, the ASF was the only main open source community for middleware."

Davies explains the attraction of putting a project under Apache's care: "[The project members] know that a project will not die if a key developer gets run over by a bus or the company that developer works for gets taken over. [But] in reality this means it's hard to start new projects at Apache and grow a diverse community, as open source projects don't typically work that way."

An open source project typically starts because of the efforts of one or two people, Davies asserts, and attracts contributors only after it shows it has legs. To that end, Davies adds, "the ASF is best suited to established projects that want to benefit from wider exposure and attract a greater diversity," as was the case with Hadoop, which was donated by Yahoo. "If you want to start a completely new project, the ASF might not be the first place to start."

Facebook's Thusoo feels the ASF is best for projects "that are interested in developing a broader community that has representation from a number of companies in the industry. For open source projects that focus really on having the controls with a single entity and that perhaps do not encourage a lot of wider industry participation in terms of authoring, ASF is not really a correct vehicle."

Part of the inflexibility hinted at here may arise from the way Apache's licensing conflicts with the GPL, still among the most broadly used licenses for open source software. The conflicts revolve around "patent termination and indemnification provisions," according to the ASF — in short, some of the very elements that make the Apache license and community what it is.

While the GPL may in fact be falling out of favor, replaced largely by the Apache License, more permissive licenses like the GPL-compatible MIT License are becoming increasingly popular. GitHub CEO Tom Preston-Werner used his recent OSCON keynote to endorse the MIT License for its brevity and permissiveness — central virtues for many projects on GitHub's rapidly evolving open source ecosystem.


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