Has Apache lost its way?

Complaints of stricture over structure, signs of technical prowess on the wane -- the best days of the Apache Software Foundation may be behind

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ASF and the future of open source

Open source software development is becoming increasingly split between two paths. Down one path lies the world of individually bootstrapped, spontaneously collaborative efforts hosted on GitHub, usually with little formal backing but great enthusiasm and vibrancy. Down the other is the world of commercially sponsored open source, a world the Apache Software Foundation is heavily invested in, as OpenOffice.org, Hadoop, CloudStack, Tomcat, and several other projects show.

The bigger and more complex the project, the more likely it is to need something of the Apache Software Foundation's structure -- and more important, its wealth of corporate contributors -- to keep it alive and well. But as noted above, that makes such projects vulnerable to manipulation by those very contributors. It also stands apart from whether the ASP approach is best for keeping a project competitive with its technological neighbors, or whether the ASF approach is compatible with the project in the first place.

As Proffitt states, "The ASF is very good at taking big projects that are on their last legs and revitalizing them with organization and resources. But their methodology is less than effective for smaller projects that can and should be more nimble in their processes."

When Noirin Plunkett spoke on behalf of the ASF at OSCON this year, she noted that there was "no negotiation" as far as three requirements of being an Apache-sponsored project goes: using Apache's license, developing by consensus, and having a diverse community ("We don't have projects that have one sole source of contributors”) -- although as noted with Harmony and IBM, how diversity can be enforced is another issue entirely.

Statements like these may be behind Proffitt's notions about the "bureaucracy" of the ASF. "[The ASF does] need to put aside some of their strict perceptions of how things are done and listen more to members' issues at times," he says.

Brockmeier highlights further the differences between the ASF and other foundations: "Most foundations don't do much in the way of incubation or dictating any form of governance. The Linux Foundation, for instance, focuses on promoting technologies (Linux mostly, but also has other projects like OpenDaylight and the Xen Project) and a place for several companies to come together. But [the Linux Foundation] doesn't suggest rules for allowing people to have commit access or have requirements for how decisions are made about the projects."

There's little question the ASF has been a boon to the projects suited to it, although keeping those projects competitive remains the responsibility of the project itself. Likewise, while the ASF's rules have been a great source of support to those who need it, it's clear they can be perceived as a stricture rather than a structure. There's no reason for the ASF to try and be all things to all people, and that model so far has served it and its projects well. But it's also clear it's far from the only model in open source town -- especially in a world where open source can be a political tool as well as an ethos and development methodology.

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This story, "Has Apache lost its way?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in open source software at InfoWorld.com. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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