Apache Ready to Unleash Another Decade of Innovation

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2010-01-04

Apache Ready to Unleash Another Decade of Innovation

The Apache Software Foundation has arguably been the leading force for open-source software over the last 10 years and promises to continue being a force in the new decade.

During a visit to the organization's corporate headquarters in Forest Hill, Md., Jim Jagielski, chairman of the ASF board of directors, told eWEEK that ASF has indeed had a "huge impact" on the industry.

Over the last decade, Apache has been "more pervasive in Web infrastructure and open-source software infrastructure than any other organization out there," Jagielski said. "If you are using Java, you're doing Log4J or Tomcat. We've made inroads for other organizations and for open-source software to gain entry in the enterprise. Enterprise organizations will try the [Apache] Web server first, and they tend to get a different view of open-source software. And that encourages them to look at other open-source software projects out there. The Apache Software Foundation is pretty much their first test of open-source software, and that's a pretty awesome responsibility."

Moreover, the Apache license tends to be more business-friendly than some other OSS licenses, which has helped Apache software gain further adoption.

"You can take the code with the Apache license and bring it in and use it to build on top of, and the license is free enough for you to do a business," Jagielski said. "But it's not necessarily business-focused."

The ASF celebrated its 10th anniversary with a big celebration at the ApacheCon conference in Oakland, Calif., in November. Oakland was selected as the venue partly because, despite the ASF being incorporated in Maryland, "the West Coast is really the spiritual home of the ASF," Jagielski said. He said many early contributors as well as new adopters were on hand at ApacheCon to discuss the various Apache projects, such as the Hadoop framework for data-intensive distributed applications.

"Hadoop has created a life of its own," Jagielski said. "In 10 short years we're seeing this incredible growth, and I think about where the next possible 10 years of innovation will take us."

One thing that has already begun is instead of only having one big conference in ApacheCon, going forward ASF will provide more informal events like bar camps, user group meetings and hackathons to support the community.

Support from Microsoft and Google

In addition, the ASF has branched out and responded positively to aggressive courtship from unlikely sources, such as Microsoft. Microsoft committed to contribute $100,000 to the ASF as a platinum sponsor of the organization in a move brokered largely by Sam Ramji, former director of platform strategy at Microsoft and current president of the CodePlex Foundation and vice president of strategy at Sonoa.

"I was sad to see Sam Ramji leave Microsoft because in Sam Microsoft had somebody who understood open-source software instead of someone drinking the Kool-Aid," Jagielski said. "Microsoft is starting to get to the point where they are like IBM and Sun were five to eight years ago. Microsoft realizes they can sell more Windows licenses if they use open-source software because a lot of open-source software runs on Windows."

Jagielski touted Microsoft's "generosity," adding, "I'm a very pragmatic person. There are a lot of people out there who see anything Microsoft does as nefarious. I'm more pragmatic. Sure, I'd like to see Microsoft get further along, but I could say the same thing for Sun, Oracle and IBM."

However, Jagielski gave a thumbs-up to Microsoft's efforts in spinning out the CodePlex Foundation as a community effort for developers to build open-source software for Microsoft platforms.

"My understanding is it's more of a clearinghouse for Microsoft employees," Jagielski said. "They created this independent organization that has this license that Microsoft employees [and others] can donate to. It helps smooth that path of code transfer out there. I like what Microsoft is doing to get developers to have code they can add to so engineers don't have to re-create the wheel."

To spread the ASF love around a little, Jagielski also praised another industry powerhouse, Google, for its contributions to the ASF and to the open-source community at large.

Google has been "incredibly open" and "they've donated a lot of code to ASF and to the open-source community," Jagielski said. "They've been a charter member and a continuing sponsor of the ASF. Certainly, it would be easy to say it would be nice to have some of that secret sauce they have, but the fact they've donated so much speaks for itself. Google has proven you can create a large, complex infrastructure with barebones Linux servers and open-source software."

Apache: The Early Years


Apache: The Early Years

Jagielski's stint with Apache dates back to 1995 when he began working with the Apache Web server. He later joined the original group of eight developers who were maintaining the server, the original Apache Group. Jagielski said his initial interest in working with the group was to ensure that the Apache server ran well on Apple's old Unix-based A/UX operating system, which he was using-both at his job at NASA and his side Web hosting business known as JaguNET-and editing an FAQ for.

"By 1999, we were growing so fast and the Web server was so successful that we knew we needed to make a legal foundation" to handle the oversight of the technology.

For his part, Jagielski said his interest in open-source software and contributing to the community burgeoned during his days at NASA in the late '80s and early '90s.

"If you're a real, circuit-driven EE [electrical engineer], open source appeals to you," he said. "I thought it was very cool to have this code you could look at. And, also, you had an opportunity to make trivial or even major improvements to the code. Having the ability to do stuff constructively and get immediate feedback was very important to me."

Hot Apache Projects

Although projects such as the Apache Web Server, Tomcat and Hadoop are a few of the foundation's most popular projects, many others stand out to Jagielski, including the Apache Commons project, Lucene, ApacheDS and CXF, an open-source services framework, he said, noting that there are far too many interesting Apache projects to list.

As far as the future for the organization, Jagielski said that is up to the community. And, though some Apache projects target the cloud and Web 2.0 technologies, "The ASF has never said we need to do something with the cloud or Web 2.0," Jagielski said. "The community defines the direction; we just lay the foundation to get you in that direction."

Yet, while citing the benefits of OSS, Jagielski also addresses the potential issue of bloat when it comes to open-source software. Asked if he believes Linux is becoming bloated, Jagielski replied: "I think any software project, open source or not, runs the risk of being bloated because of its success-because engineers always want to add new features. The big thing is how do you allow the 'feature creep' to enter into your project without bloating it? It's hard to find a balance between what's needed and what's not. The bigger the project becomes, the more difficult it is to maintain code quality. One of Linux's claims to fame is you don't need heavy-duty hardware to run it. And if that stops being the case-either in reality or perception-that could have a negative impact." 

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