It's been 10 years since the Apache Software Foundation hung out its feather, creating what has become a series of communities filled with focused project entrepreneurs working on a laundry list of innovative efforts, one of which landed in the White House just a few weeks ago.
The application that now runs the White House website is Drupal, but its underpinnings, the Lucene search service, is pure Apache Software Foundation (ASF), an all volunteer membership that now exceeds 300 people, including some of the most respected talent in the open source community.
In its 10 years, ASF has become a shining example of the power of open source development and the group, now with 65 projects operating under its banner, shows no signs of slowing down. Just four years ago, the number of ASF projects stood at 25.
ASF will celebrate its 10th anniversary at this week's ApacheCon conference even though the official anniversary date is in June.
"I think [ASF] has shown to be successful in that there is a lot of good software that comes out of Apache that is widely used," said Doug Cutting, a member of the ASF board of directors, and the creator of the Lucene project. "We lead by example. That is something we aspire to do."
Cutting's leadership examples include three ASF projects – Lucene, Hadoop and Nutch. In addition, there are 33 projects in the Apache Incubator, and more than two dozen codebases being explored in the Apache Labs. It all operates within the Foundation, which is actually a membership-based non profit corporation registered in the US.
From its beginnings with 21 members and the Apache HTTP Server, still the most popular web server in use, the foundation has forged a set of principles that continue to drive it today.
Unlike other open source organisations, before Apache hosts a project it has to be given to the ASF, which ultimately controls the intellectual property of all its projects. But the projects themselves run as semi-autonomous units within ASF, which provides members with legal protection from suits directed at foundation projects.
New members are by invite only, voted upon by existing members, and prove their value by contributing to a project or projects at the Foundation, which describes itself as a meritocracy.
"We build software on its merits, which is a pretty great model," Cutting says. "Hopefully we set a tone, but we don't force the Apache Way on other projects."
Cutting says the focus on building software and letting people do what they want to do with it is one of the important roles that ASF plays in the open source movement today. He says more people are building software today and calling it open source, "but if you look closely they are aiming for vendor lock-in."
ASF's structure and strategy avoids that result, Cutting says. "Today, our model is getting stronger and that is bringing more projects into Apache."
Cutting says the future should hold more of the same. "We are not seeking to rock the boat and reinvent Apache, but we will continue to guide and scale the Foundation." That effort is one of the tests for ASF as it moves into its second decade.
"Part of the design challenge is to build a scalable Foundation that does not require a lot of management," he says. "We don't want a big heavy bureaucracy."
While the board works on the future of ASF, Cutting sees the innovation part of the Foundation taking care of itself."Technically what the future brings is anyone's bet," Cutting says. "But I think the future holds room for more and more software that is open source and more and more that is Apache style open source and more and more that is within the Apache Software Foundation."
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