Apache at 10: You Can't Buy Us
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Money can't buy everything, especially when it comes to freely available open source software from the Apache Software Foundation (ASF).
The ASF is now celebrating its 10th anniversary as a non-profit foundation that has grown from its initial project, the Apache HTTP Web Server, to more than 60 projects today.
The Apache HTTP Web Server remains the most widely deployed Web server today, with more than 42 million active sites, according to the latest data from research firm Netcraft.
At the ApacheCon conference today, pioneers of the ASF talked about their experiences at the trail-blazing open source foundation. They also outlined why the ASF remains relevant today, and why money doesn't buy many favors.
"Sometimes Apache has had a reputation of being hard to work with or slow to make decisions, and it's because we value independence and neutrality so strongly," said Brian Behlendorf, an ASF founding member. "When somebody sees that any given company can be a sponsor, they know that we can't be pwned at all."
As proof positive of that sentiment, one-time Apache rival Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) last year became a sponsor of the ASF, contributing $100,000 to the foundation annually.
However, being a sponsor and contributing financially to the ASF doesn't necessary buy a corporation a seat at the development table. Developers, regardless of their affiliation, are measured on the merits of their individual contributions.
"The only way to get a seat is through the meritocracy, through actually building something at Apache that the rest of the members thought was worthy enough that you as an individual would get some kind of recognition," noted open source advocate Danese Cooper said. "I really think that design is totally key to how meritocracy in action and community before code has worked out."
Cooper noted that the merit system elevates the value of individuals, rather than the companies they work for.
Cooper's sentiment was echoed by ASF member Ted Leung, who commented that after having been employed by IBM working on an XML project, he quit after the code was donated to the ASF. Leung said that even though he was no longer working for IBM, he was still able to work on the code, and work as a go-between for IBM and Sun, the two big corporations involved in the Apache XML effort.
"One of the reasons why we've been so successful is we've been able to have a place where people with different sets of interests can come together and work," Leung said. "For the most part, people believe it's a neutral playing field, though every year there is a different company that owns Apache, from IBM to Sun to Google, but that's mostly a joke."
Leung added that people come to Apache because they believe they will be treated equally and fairly based on the merits of their ideas.
"That's one reason why we have 70 projects of all types," Leung said. "People wouldn't come to us if it wasn't true or if people felt that corporations were buying seats at the table."