Is an Apache project yet?

Is an Apache project yet? Apache projects operate independently, but have common behaviour patterns, collectively known as The Apache Way. These patterns are commonly adopted (and sometimes adapted) by new open source projects and...


Is an Apache project yet?

Apache projects operate independently, but have common behaviour patterns, collectively known as The Apache Way. These patterns are commonly adopted (and sometimes adapted) by new open source projects and foundations seeking to duplicate Apache's success. But only The Apache Software Foundation can boast 17 years experience of The Apache Way.

The first Apache Incubator release of Apache OpenOffice is imminent. The Apache Incubator is where all code enters the foundation and where a new community learns The Apache Way. Graduation from the Incubator is the recognition of a true Apache project worthy of carrying the Apache brand.

I thought it might be helpful to look at the common Apache behaviours in the context of OpenOffice. The goal is twofold. Firstly it will help understand what makes an Apache project work. Secondly it will help evaluate how close to graduation the project is.

Itemised below are most of the common behaviours found in all Apache projects. You'll also find my opinion of how well OpenOffice is doing in each case. I am a mentor on OpenOffice but these are my own opinions not necessarily those of other mentors.

A Project Management Committee (PMC) oversees each project on behalf of its users, contributors, committers and the foundation itself. Upon entering incubation the PMC is guided by mentors from the foundation. Upon graduation mentors either retire or become equal members of the PMC. The Apache OpenOffice PMC is already running independently of its mentors.

New committers and PMC members are elected by the PMC based on merit. In the last quarter OpenOfffice has voted in an average of two committers a month in recognition of their contributions to the project.

All decisions, other than those relating to individuals (eg. votes for new committers) happen on the public mailing list, discussions on the private list are kept to a minimum. There are no inappropriate private discussion in OpenOffice.

"If it didn't happen on the dev list, it didn't happen" meaning no decision about the project can be made outside of the public development list. Proposals can be drawn up elsewhere, but decisions occur on the public list. Apache OpenOffice is starting to plan the major taks of integrating appropriate code from Lotus Symphony. It is refreshing to see this being handled transparently and delicately on the public lists.

Where possible, decisions are made by consensus reached through discussion. There are voting rules but we prefer not to have to vote. A large project like OpenOffice would be expected to find it difficult to reach consensus, certainly this was the case in the first six months of incubation. However, the project is now in very good shape with increasingly healthy discussion leading to broad consensus within the project community.

Releases are created according to the ASF's license requirements. Apache OpenOffice 3.4 is has been in code-freeze for nearly a month to allow for a full audit of the IP status of the project. OpenOffice 3.4 will be the first Apache licensed edition of Future releases will be much simpler thanks to the hard work put into this first release.

Trademarks and logos used by ASF projects belong to the ASF. All appropriate trademarks and logos relating to have been signed over to the Apache Software Foundation.

Apache projects are managed by a diverse group of people, each representing their own interests within the project. Apache decision making processes prevent "block votes" controlling the process by ensuring each voice is equally loud. This last point is worth picking apart in more detail.

When the Apache OpenOffice project came to the foundation many critics claimed that it would be an IBM only project. I signed up as a mentor, in part, because I was concerned about this possibility. I didn't want a single employer gaming the system. I wanted to ensure that the Apache Way was followed to the letter so that all participants were able to speak up. However, my concerns were largely unfounded. Whilst there are a number of big personalities in the project they are from sufficiently diverse backgrounds for the project to operate healthily by adopting The Apache Way. I no longer have any concerns in this regard.

In preparation for this post I took a quick straw poll of the of project committers asking why they were there. I wanted to get a feel for the true diversity of employment status and skills represented. It's impossible to enumerate exactly where contributors come from because Apache projects do not concern themselves with employment status. however, around 25% of all committers responded to my request. This sample represented at least 21 different employers.

Here is a selection of the responses to the question of what drives them:

  • Building an ODF ecosystem
  • Cross project pollination
  • Standards support and adoption
  • Porting to specific platforms
  • Extension build tools
  • Extensions hosting (thanks Sourceforge)
  • Building extensions
  • Translations
  • Regional community development
  • Educational support for OpenOffice
  • Creating choice and awareness
  • Accessibility
  • User support
  • Documentation
  • Migration support from Oracle (although we still have active engagement from Oracle despite migration being complete)
  • Self education/training
  • Fun

The OpenOffice project has proven that it can make The Apache Way work for it. The upcoming OpenOffice release is not only the last major hurdle before graduation but will also be the day that the Open Document Format ecosystem gets a permissively licensed suite of tools upon which to innovate.

There are exciting times ahead.

Posted by Ross Gardler

Ross is a committer and PMC member on a number of Apache projects, a champion and mentor on incubating projects including, and Vice President of the Community Development project. He is a founder of OpenDirective, a company specialising in making the connections between the academic research sector and the commercial product and service delivery sector. Until recently Ross was manager of OSS Watch, the open source advisory service to the UK higher and further education sector. He is chair of the TransferSummit/UK conference, which seeks to link the academic research sector and the commercial sector.

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