Has Apache lost its way?

Some in open source community wonder whether Apache foundation is best for today's software developers

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This move inspired the ire of one of the project's other contributors, Christian BergstrAPm, 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." (BergstrAPm declined to comment for this article.)

Jagielski, when asked about BergstrAPm'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 BergstrAPm 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. BergstrAPm 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.)

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 hale and hearty. But all this stands apart from 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").

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.

This story, "Has Apache lost its way?" was originally published by InfoWorld.

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