Report: Apache's way may no longer be sufficient to keep up with open source software

Published: Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Apache Software Foundation has been one of the pillars of the open source software community since the end of the last century, and its curation and management of many of the top open source projects out there have contributed greatly to the progress of the development model into the mainstream.

Its own Apache Web Server framework is one of the basic underpinnings of the internet as we know it, and the group's license has helped many open source software products experience healthy growth. Apache, in short, is nearly synonymous with the term open source.

However, one developer openly questioned in a recent blog post whether the open source software community has outgrown the need for the foundation's guidance.

According to Mikeal Rogers, a development advocate at enterprise social media company Yammer, the Apache Foundation is quickly devolving from an engine of institutional transformation into an outdated relic of a previous era.

Part of Rogers' argument has less to do with the actions taken by Apache itself and more to do with the evolution of open source software in general. Much of what made the institution important in its heyday was its role in convincing the business community that open source wasn't just a niche populated by crabby malcontents.

Conversely, the organization also pushed open source developers toward the realization that the commercial software industry wasn't the dictatorial killer of creativity it was perceived to be.

In the present day, however, Rogers asserted that open source software is so prevalent in the enterprise sector that there is little need for the outreach role in which the foundation had been so valuable.

Of course, he said, that doesn't mean that the open source software community is no longer in need of support. The need to keep the barriers to entry low is as great as it's ever been. This, however, is the area in which Apache is digging its own grave.

Political in-fighting and a desire to keep projects using Apache's own version control system - instead of its perceived rivals like GitHub - are undermining the foundation's previously unassailable position as a paragon of open source virtues, according to Rogers.

"The problem here is less about git and more about the chasm between Apache and the new culture of open source. There is a growing community of young new open source developers that Apache continues to distance itself from and as the ASF plants itself firmly in this position the growing community drifts farther away," he wrote.

Rogers' reference to the PhoneGap project as an example of a product that was treated skeptically by Apache despite its apparent maturity is illustrative. However, IT World writer Brian Proffitt said that it is also a touch misleading.

Proffitt critiques Rogers' point in light of similar treatment meted out to another mature product in OpenOffice.org. The IT World contributor asserted that, rather than punitive treatment handed out to political rivals, Apache's acceptance process demonstrates the foundation's even-handedness. What's more, it was likely well-warranted in that case, as OpenOffice has been plagued by issues, he noted, with the LibreOffice project splitting off from it a year ago in response.

Nevertheless, Proffitt agreed with Rogers' main point that the health of the open source software community and the quality of its contributions should be the main concerns of organizations dedicated to helping it grow, not devotion to one model or another of development.