Apache President Reflects on the Last 10 Years

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Apache President Reflects on the Last 10 Years

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Apache's ten year anniversary celebrations wrapped up last week at ApacheCon 2009.  DZone recently got the chance to speak with Justin Erenkrantz, the President of the Apache Software Foundation.  In this exclusive interview, we took the opportunity to reflect on the last ten years at Apache and find out what drives the foundation's continued success.  

The Apache Software Foundation, Erenkrantz says, orginated from the 'Apache Group'.  It all started with eight developers who got together and started contributing pathes to the NCSA HTTP server.  The developers later became known as the Apache Group and started the Apache HTTP server, which has been the most popular web server since 1996.  Erenkrantz said that after five years of working on the Apache HTTP server the developers said to themselves, "'We've got more to share with the world than just a web server.  The processes and the way that we work - we can apply this to other open source projects.'"

"That was the motivation behind the 1999 creation," said Erenkrantz.  He said that the Apache Foundation also satisfied the need for a legal entity to shield contributors from litigation.  Brian Behlendorf and Roy Fielding were two major players in the foundtion of the ASF.   Behlendorf served as President of the Foundation for three years.  Roy Fielding was the chair of the Apache Software Foundation for its first three years and remains a member of its board of directors.  

Erenkrantz thinks Brian Behlendorf or Cliff Skolnick came up with the name "Apache."  The signficance of the name comes from the unique culture of the Apache tribe.  "They were distinguished by not having one leader per se, they would basically make decisions in a consensus fashion, and whoever had the best idea, he was the leader for that, and everybody followed him."  At one point, Erenkrantz mentioned "The Apache Way," and we asked him what that meant.  He said that the Apache Way refers to the transparent development process at Apache in which all of the major decisions are done in public on a mailing list.

When DZone asked Erenkrantz if he could tell us about some of Apache's greatest success stories, he mentioned the popularity of projects like Tomcat and the Apache HTTP server, but he was also proud of Apache's role in the Java ecosystem.  "We have been a very strong proponent over the years in actually helping to make Java an open ecosystem and trying to form the JCP," said Erenkrantz.  "I think Apache has been a very strong influence within the Java ecosystem."

In discussing major challenges the Apache Foundation has faced since its beginning ten years ago, Erenkrantz said that dealing with dying projects has been a challenge for Apache.  They recently created "The Attic" as a retirement home for projects that for some reason or another, were no longer viable.  On the other hand, Erenkrantz also mentioned the Apache Incubator, which attracts new projects.

Erenkrantz explained the benefits of joining the ASF using the most recent example:  "This week we announced that Subversion has applied to join the ASF.  One of the big motivations was that the Subversion community had created a separate, stand-alone corporation and they were having to re-learn all the lessons that the ASF did ten years ago."  Erenkrantz said that as an Apache project, "they don't have to worry about the legal stuff, they don't have to worry about setting up servers, and they don't have to worry about setting up events.  They have this whole supporting infrastructure available to them to make it easier to focus on the code."

The ApacheCon 2009 conference last week gave developers a chance to celebrate ASF's ten year anniversary and the success of Apache's philosophy.  Erenkrantz said the conference also serves as "an outlet for the community to get together face-to-face and talk about the projects, have a beer together, and basically get to know each other."  Apache continues to move forward with the addition of Subversion and plans for version 7 of Apache Tomcat.

For more details on the new features coming in Tomcat 7, see DZone's exclusive interview with Mark Thomas.

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