Apache and OSS

I was at the OSS Watch conference on Thursday and very interesting if at times above my head it was. David Plans Casal who is a part of the Apache Foundation gave an illuminating presentation on Open Source Software. David’s experience dated back to at least the mid 1990’s and as such his historic perspective was particularly interesting in its analysis of the social processes surrounding the Apache Foundation. Back in the 90’s OSS was perceived to be the Wild West of software development inhabited by communist vegan activists (sorry for the mixed metaphors) whereas the past couple of years have seen it transformed into the to the sharp suited mainstream. Although not quite, as although many large multinationals such as finance houses use OSS they are reluctant to say so because of the impact that this has on their share prices as they are seen to be a ‘risky’ company.

David identified recent trends:

  • the use of the threat of OSS by consultants to scare proprietary software giants to slash their prices ad the wholesale hiring of OSS developers by large software houses to develop OSS projects
  • increase in the reputation of OSS solutions
  • increased competition between OSS and proprietary – not the same as competition between OSS and commercial
  • OSS increasingly used as a apart of a package of solutions with linked to proprietary software
  • growth in companies offering the “full English” OSS solution although David Believed the “continental breakfast” was a more common choice for non-US organizations

    David explained that for his own company, the change in the understanding of OSS in the wider community was illustrated by the different nature of phone calls they receive. 4 years ago, people would phone up expecting free advice and support for Apache and were quite upset when the fact was explained that although the software was free, clearly there had to be financial compensation for individuals involved in offering support!

    The Apache Foundation is an interesting case study of a developers ‘family’ that has evolved a strong community around a common enterprise sharing practices. David was passionate as this community model of learning and how it could transform individuals who participated in it. Anyone who turns up is welcomed and helped be they a novice or an experienced practitioner.

    No one was suggesting that OS would replace proprietary software – it won’t! However, the competition appears to be hotting up and the playing field levelling out.

  • 7 thoughts on “Apache and OSS

    1. Mu

      sounds like an interesting workshop Stephen,

      i think a lot of my work and knowledge gained is based on tapping into the knowledge that these OSS communities share with one another. great to hear the trends about OSS – good sign for communites that can’t afford proprietary solutions,

    2. David Plans Casal

      In must be pointed out here that while I do a lot of work in and out of the ASF because of our (Luminas) involvement in its projects, I’m an evangelist as opposed to a committer. So, in comparison to serious programmers who are recognised members of the ASF, I’m an outsider. Just so that’s clear, since I don’t want to misrepresent myself as a serious contributor to the codebase.

    3. Andrew Savory

      I think most Cocoon people would argue David is very much a part of the community, particularly since he played piano at a Cocoon developer’s conference!

      One of the interesting things about the OSS communities springing up is that it’s not all focussed on who writes the best code: long-term involvement and creative input in whatever form is as important as how many lines you’ve written.

      In fact, the ASF emphasises community over and above code: unless there’s an active group of people surrounding a project, it won’t continue. This is why Apache has a high success rate of live projects vs. somewhere like Sourceforge, where there’s an awful lot of abandoned code.

    4. Stephen Powell

      Sorry I got that wrong David, great that you can correct me though:^)

      Interesting Andy, this is real community of practice ala Etienne Wenger (1998). There is a clearly defined domain that folk are passionate about, a common set of practices, and a strong community founded on an apprentice model.


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