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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

Competition is your responsibility
Mention of GitHub brings to mind another criticism of the Apache Way: It doesn't automatically spur projects to remain technologically competitive.

Consider Apache HTTP Server, the ASF's original 1995 project, and still one of the foundation's flagship projects. Once responsible for powering the overwhelming majority of websites, it's now experiencing increasing competition from the Nginx server. Created in 2008, Nginx already powers around 15 percent of websites (Apache stands at 53 percent, down from over 60 percent since June 2011), in large part because it uses a different architecture that is said to handle high loads better, is far easier to configure, and is offered under the simpler and more liberal BSD license.

The ASF's version-control system Subversion has also seen challenges on the technical side, having taken a major backseat with developers to Git and especially GitHub, at least in some measure because the distributed nature of Git is a better complement to the work habits of modern developers.

While the ASF helped keep these projects alive and well, the need to keep them technologically competitive falls outside its bailiwick. But many argue this is a feature of the ASF, not a bug.

Apache CloudStack PMC member Brockmeier believes the ASF does want its projects to be "technologically competitive and widely used." But "it's not within the scope of the foundation to take responsibility for that. And I doubt Apache would be as popular as it is, were the ASF leadership to try to dictate to projects exactly how they can do that."

Ben Cherian, Chief Strategy Officer at Midokura, network virtualization company that contributes to Apache CloudStack, agrees. "I don't believe it's the Foundation's responsibility to deal with the changing market and evolution of the projects," he says. "It's the responsibility of each project's community to adapt to the changing winds of technology and market pressure. As with every software project, sometimes there are lifespans associated with these projects, and death and rebirth are part of the normal lifecycle of software. There will be some projects that are wild successes and some that flounder. This isn't a failure of the Apache project. It's just a reality of how software is accepted and adopted by the market."

To that end, any project under Apache's sponsorship must realize on its own how to remain competitive and not let the sponsorship of the ASF suffice for that.

Project politics and its discontents
The ASF has taken heat of late based on how specific projects have been handled. Case in point:, which was donated to the ASF by Oracle in June 2011.

Four months after changed hands, the ASF published a statement to quell fears about the future of the project and to forestall some criticism already thrown its way. The statement claimed "destructive statements have been published by both members of the greater FOSS community and former contributors to the original product, suggesting that the project has failed during the 18 weeks since its acceptance into the Apache Incubator. We understand that stakeholders of a project with a 10+-year history — be they former product managers or casual users — may be unfamiliar with the Apache Way and question its methods." Apache went on to cite the Subversion and SpamAssassin projects as "proof that the Apache Way works."


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