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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

Some criticism might have been due to the way the change in ownership of apparently delayed the software's release schedule. A beta of version 3.4 had been offered in April 2011, but the full-blown 3.4 release wouldn't come out until May of the following year. (Version 4.0, with major code contributions from IBM, was released in July 2013.)

Part of the delay was due to relicensing the suite under the Apache license, a time-consuming process. But some of it was more directly attributable to, regardless of who sponsors it, having a release-when-ready approach rather than dropping new versions on any fixed schedule. By contrast, the sister project, LibreOffice, drops new releases every six months under the LGPL.

Another recent issue involved the retirement of one of the Foundation's smaller software projects, the Apache C++ Standard Library project. Active since 2005, this project had seen its last revision in mid-2008. The chair for the project, Jim Jagielski, stepped down at the end of May 2013; in July, the ASF board voted to retire the project to the Apache Attic, a space "to provide process and solutions to make it clear when an Apache project has reached its end of life."

This move inspired the ire of one of the project's other contributors, Christian Bergström, who had previously volunteered to take over as project chair. He derided the board's choice as "a stupid decision made by bureaucrats" and claimed, "The project still has potential and the lack of vision and belief from the 'board' that those interested could actually achieve it — it's flat out disappointing." (Bergström declined to comment for this article.)

Jagielski, when asked about Bergström's complaints, replied: "The Apache C++ Standard Library was given numerous opportunities to 'reboot' itself and re-energize the community, but the sad fact is that it was never able to accomplish it." He also noted that Bergström didn't take the right kind of initiative: "As the mailing list and code repo logs show, there was no activity of merit at all [in the project] for a long, long time, and Mr. Bergström certainly had plenty of opportunity to provide some evidence of that potential; even some code commits from him and others would have been a factor."

Brockmeier also points out that retiring a project to the Attic is not meant to be a death sentence. "Retiring projects is one of the reasons I like Apache's approach overall," he says. "Pushing a project into the Attic doesn't in any way hinder people using the code or reviving development at a later date."

Some Attic-bound projects have been moved into new directions. Apache Avalon, for instance, has since become a whole host of subprojects, some maintained by other entities (such as Loom). On the other hand, Apache Harmony, an open source implementation of Java, was sent to the Attic in 2011. (OpenJDK, an entirely separate project along the same lines started by Oracle, has more or less eclipsed Harmony's place.)


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