A Chat With Apache Software Foundation President Justin Erenkrantz

by Peter Galli on November 02, 2009 03:01pm

This week the Apache Software Foundation celebrates its 10th anniversary at its annual U.S. ApacheCon 2009 event in Oakland. As such, I though it would be interesting to chat with ASF President Justin Erenkrantz about the past 10 years and what's still to come going forward.

Peter Galli: Tell me about ApacheCon, who the audience is, what the goal of the event is.

Justin Erenkrantz: Since The Apache Software Foundation (ASF) is so globally distributed, with almost 2,000 Committers around the world working on over 100 different projects, we do all of our work virtually, via public mailing lists.

As such, ApacheCon presents a unique opportunity for our community - users, contributors, and developers - to get together face-to-face. We typically try to run at least two shows a year: we're currently holding our upcoming U.S. show in Oakland, and we held ApacheCon Europe in Amsterdam earlier this year.

At ApacheCon, we have a range of trainings, talks, and MeetUps.  We have half-day, full-day, and two-day trainings typically led by key developers in the project.  This immersive environment allows interested parties to dive down into tremendous detail about Apache projects - popular trainings include Hadoop, Solr, Tomcat, ActiveMQ, Wicket, Lucene and, of course, our well-known HTTP Server.

In addition to the trainings, we have three days of session tracks (usually hour-long talks) covering broad topics such as: Content Technology (content management systems including Sling and Jackrabbit, as well as CouchDB and POI), Web Services (Axis and other SOA tools), OFBiz (our Enterprise Resource Planning solution), Tomcat (our popular Java servlet engine...well it does much more than that these days!), Felix (our implementation of the OSGi framework) and, of course, some talks about the HTTP Server.

One thing that we're really excited about this year is our expansion of free MeetUps in the evening.  These are a great opportunity to mingle with the community in a very low-key unstructured environment focused on a single topic. You can think of a MeetUp as an all-night "birds of a feather" (BOF) sessions. In addition, we will be holding BarCamp Apache -- our two day un-conference to talk about whatever folks are interested in, as well as the Hackathon, where participants can collaborate on various code bases alongside Apache Committers. The great thing about the MeetUps, BarCamp, and Hackathon is that they're open to the public, free of charge. All are welcome!

Peter Galli: You always hear a lot about the "Apache Way." Explain this to me.

Justin Erenkrantz: As an all volunteer, non-profit organization, the ASF is regularly praised for its consistent, repeatable, open development model. This model, affectionately dubbed by some as "the Apache Way", is behind the ASF's success in scaling from a single project to 70 primary projects today.

One of our biggest challenges, as the ASF has grown to nearly 2,000 Committers, is how to teach the Apache Way to those interested in bringing new Open Source projects to the Foundation. The way to address this on a formal level is through the Apache Incubator, created to "mentor" new projects and to assist in their learning how to operate as an ASF project. ASF Members who find the candidate technology (called a "podling") worth pursuing, they can then volunteer to be a mentor to the project.

Rather than overseeing its technical development, the mentor's main responsibility to a podling is more social, by helping to pass down the traditions and culture of other projects. Over time, once the podling has demonstrated that it has learned the Apache Way and can govern itself successfully, it can become a full-fledged ASF project and graduate to a top-level project.

Anyone can submit a podling proposal to the Incubator for consideration as a new ASF project. If you have an existing Open Source project and would like to join the ASF, we encourage you to check out the Incubator, and submit your proposals to general@incubator.apache.org.

Peter Galli: Microsoft has been working closely with the Apache Community for some time now. Can you talk to how that works and why our participation is important?

Justin Erenkrantz: As you know, last year Microsoft announced its Platinum Sponsorship of the ASF, which it continued this year. While we are delighted to have Microsoft's financial support as a sponsor of the Foundation, I think the more important aspect of Microsoft's relationship is that they are now contributing to a variety of Apache projects.

Since we announced the sponsorship last year, Microsoft is now contributing to at least four Apache projects: HBase, Stonehenge, QPid, and POI.  This really continues the significant sea change from within the organization - Microsoft now isn't afraid of having their employees contribute to Apache projects on Microsoft's time. Committers from Microsoft sign the same legal agreements that we require from all of our contributors. 

Microsoft's involvement in these specific communities range from having their employees being core contributors driving the project, to having folks contributing patches or ideas on our mailing lists, to even commissioning a third-party to contribute to our project as a work-for-hire. In other words, Microsoft is now actively participating within Apache projects in a broad range of ways.

In recent conversations with the Port25 team at Microsoft, it sounds like there are even more Apache projects that Microsoft is interested in getting involved in. We look forward to Microsoft's continued and increased contribution and participation within Apache.

As a public charity, we rely on donations from the public. Our policy is not to provide direct funding for our projects (we do not pay for contributions to any of our projects), however there are a number of indirect needs to support our projects.  The biggest chunk of our budget goes towards maintaining our servers - we maintain SCM systems (currently Subversion-based), mirror distribution system (seeding a large number of volunteer mirrors), build farms, Web sites, and mailing lists. 

We have key data centers at Oregon State University's Open Source Lab and SURFnet in the Netherlands.  Since we have a growing number of contributors in the Pacific Rim, we're looking to expand our server presence in those regions.  Through our Travel Assistance Committee, we also use our funds to help community members (typically college students) who could not otherwise attend our events - this has been a fantastically successful project in helping to encourage further participation.  Finally, we also use some of funds to help spread our message - so many folks still think that the ASF is just about the HTTP Server - it's not!  It's only 1 of 70 different top-level projects - so we realize we still have to do some education on that front!

Peter Galli: What are some of the most exciting projects that have been developed by the Apache community, or are currently being worked on?

Justin Erenkrantz: There are so many exciting projects that it's hard to choose from! As before, some folks think that the ASF is just about the HTTP Server: we have projects ranging from Atom/RSS parsers/producers (Abdera) to generating high-quality printable graphics via XML (XMLGraphics).  Some folks don't often connect the dots and realize that projects like CouchDB, SpamAssassin, and Hadoop are all Apache projects.  And, it's important to know that via our Incubator and Labs projects that we're open to shepherding even more projects.

As we celebrate our tenth anniversary, we've established ourselves as an important player in the ecosystem.  We were founded on pragmatic principles, but that hasn't meant that we shouldn't have a leadership position: our Apache License version 2 is the flag-bearer for permissive Open-Source licenses and we have been a strong advocate for openness and transparency within the Java standards process.  Over the next ten years, it'll be an exciting ride!

We should also point out eWeek's recent story on eleven Apache technologies that have changed computing in the last 10 years.

Peter Galli: What do you hope to see coming from the community over the next years?

Justin Erenkrantz: Our purpose in founding the ASF ten years ago was to bring the "Apache Way" to a broader community than just the initial HTTP Server. Our goal is to continue that process: we realize that developers are best at coding and shouldn't have to worry about the gnarly details - be it setting up servers, distributing files, accepting donations, handling legalese, organizing events, etc. - and just focus on creating terrific code.  So, we hope to see more ideas for projects come our way through our Incubator and Labs!

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