Thursday, April 04, 2019

The Apache Software Foundation is a record label not a rock band

What shocked me most during my involvement with NetBeans, now an Apache Software Foundation project, is that The Apache Software Foundation is a record label not a rock band.

Imagine you like a given band. You go to their concerts regardless of the location, enjoy their music, buy their records, maybe proudly wear a T-shirt. You deeply care about that band and the band cares about the music they make and their fans.

Once your band joins The Apache Record Label things might seem unchanged. The band still makes good music, released obviously exclusively through their new record label.

But something did change: while the band and the fans care about their future, the record label has a lot of bands to look after and only tangentially cares about a particular band. The band is also not doing much better since all their sales go towards the maintenance of the main music venue, lawyers, trademark protection, distribution fees, etc.

The misunderstanding about The Apache Software Foundation must have been caused by the fact that initially the Foundation was about a big and important project: the Apache HTTP Server. At that time I believe the fate of the project was quite important. Nowadays I believe the Foundation could retire the Apache HTTP Server and survive unscathed.

The other misunderstanding is caused by the fact that the technology landscape has some other software foundations like the FreeBSD Foundation, the OpenBSD Foundation, Mozilla Foundation which are all about a single project. These foundations basically live and die by that project.

It's an odd situation. The Apache Software Foundation provides competent support for its projects but has no skin in the game and if a project fails they will eventually acknowledge it in a board meeting and move on.

There's also no way to directly support a project via the Apache Software Foundation. The Foundation does not sponsor any kind of project software development. All the donations go to infrastructure and administrative costs. But projects rarely hurt for infrastructure while targeted development could help them and their users a whole lot.

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