Apache group forms foundation

The Apache Group, which developed the widely used open source Apache Web server software, announced it is establishing a more formal organization called the Apache Software Foundation that will monitor development of the software going forward.

The “not-for-profit” foundation (www.apache.org) will monitor development of the Apache HTTP Server, free software that runs on Windows NT and Unix, including the Linux flavour. The Apache Software Foundation (ASF) will also oversee related projects including the Jakarta project, a collaboration between Sun Microsystems Inc., IBM Corp. and Oracle Corp. on development of Java code for the Apache environment, the Apache Group said in a statement.

The ASF’s charter is to ensure the continuity of Apache projects beyond the participation of individual volunteers, as well as to contribute financial and legal support to the development community, according to the foundation.

“Being a group had disadvantages. It’s individuals who are liable in financial and legal matters,” said Roy T. Fielding, doctoral candidate at University of California in Irvine. Fielding is also a member of the Board of Directors for the ASF, which is a virtual organization with an office in Forrest Hill, Md.

“We always worried about a lawsuit,” Fielding said. “When you have three million or so Web sites using our software, (we figured) eventually someone would be annoyed. But so far it hasn’t happened.”

Forming a foundation to oversee Apache development was to be expected, particularly given that the software has established itself in the business community, with, for example, IBM shipping Apache as part of its server software, according to Phil Costa, senior industry analyst at the market research firm Giga Information Group Inc., based in Norwell, Mass.

“It gives more responsibility, also, for securing backwards compatibility when new versions are developed,” Costa said.

The work on the Apache HTTP Server was based on software developed by Rob McCool the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois.

According to the Apache Group, McCool’s software was widely used on the Web, but the development stalled when McCool left the NCSA in 1994. A small group of users decided to coordinate their development work on the server software and formed the Apache Group. Their first release came in April 1995, however a thorough overhaul of the code and documentation was needed. The result was Apache 1.0 released in December 1995.

A survey conducted by the U.K.-based networking consultancy firm Netcraft shows that Apache is deployed on 61 per cent of all public Internet Web sites, according to the Apache Group. However, not everybody accepts that figure.

“The use is very difficult to track,” said Dan Kusnetzky, an analyst at market research firm International Data Corp. based in Framingham. Mass. “When you do a survey of Web sites you only will see the sites that are up. Furthermore you won’t see all the sites hidden behind company firewalls.”

However, Kusnetzky has no doubt there is broad acceptance of the software. “And according to users, I hear it should perform well and be very reliable.”

So far the ASF is only open to individuals by invitation. Among the members of the board of directors are many of the participants in the original Apache Group.

The ASF requires that all its projects remain open to new contributors via Internet collaboration and limits the distribution of software under its name to a set of approved open source licenses. However the day-to-day operations of each project is off limits to ASF, according to the group’s statement.

The creation of the new group pleases IBM, which currently includes the Apache server software in 38 products and also uses the software on more than half of its internal and external sites, according to James Barry, product manager of IBM’s WebSphere Application Servers.

“It does help. We will be able to work a bit closer, and it will be easier to contribute money,” Barry said, adding that IBM also contributes labour and code to the open source environment.