The Apache way meets the Oracle way

The Apache way meets the Oracle way

Summary: The Apache way, an insistence on consensus, a refusal to condemn, is facing its stiffest test in the battle over Java 7.

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TOPICS: Open Source
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There is nothing in open source quite like the Apache Software Foundation (ASF).

To outsiders it can be maddening. I just finished keynoting ApacheCon and I still don't get it.

Jim Jagielski (right) is currently Apache's president, but having been with the group since its start he's also an unofficial historian.

Jagielski traces Apache's birth to the original NCSA Web server in the mid-1990s. He remembers he had launched a web hosting company called Jagunet, and when the NCSA team left en masse to become Netscape "I had a business dependent on something that was not being maintained."

So did other people. They all jumped into the e-mail conversation aimed at getting something running. Apache was born.

This birth story helps explain why Apache exists, but what Jagielski calls the Apache Way evolved, like British common law, rather than being written down as with the U.S. Constitution. "We didn't realize we were creating rules and processes. We pulled stuff from here and there."

Central to the process is the concept of consensus. Committers must all agree to add something to the code base. It takes three votes or "ups" to get something in, but once it's in it can be vetoed out if someone has a good objection to it.

"You'd think we'd have rule by veto, stopping stuff from happening," Jagielski told me, but in practice persistent vetoes are a warning sign that "someone is being poisonous" and may need to leave.

This can happen within projects, or it can happen to projects. An example of the latter is Ibatis, now at Google Code. Apache officers let it go because it didn't run like an Apache project runs. Nothing wrong with it, nothing wrong with the people in it, it just didn't fit the Apache Way, so it left.

This passive-aggressive management style, an insistence on consensus, a refusal to condemn, and a will by everyone to keep quiet, is facing its stiffest test in the battle over Java 7.

Oracle's suit against Google over Java claims Google's Dalvik virtual machine is based on Apache's Project Harmony. Oracle thinks Harmony is its smoking gun. Apache denies it, and says that while the Google code may have had an Apache license it wasn't Apache code.

But all this is a sideshow next to the real issue.

Oracle wants to control Java, while Apache, which has a number of Java projects, wants Oracle to fulfill Sun's promises of vendor independence. The failure of Oracle to get its choice for the Java Executive Committee elected, while Apache's representative won 95% of the vote, has led to an impasse.

Apache is quietly waiting for Oracle to make its move, to force through a Java 7 road map over the objections of the Java Executive Committee (JEC), or to put its allies on the JEC by fiat.

This hasn't become much of a news story because Apache doesn't work that way. All Jagielski would say about it is "if Java 7 is pushed through, the ASF has some hard decisions to make."

Personally, I'd be pounding the table. That's not the Apache way.

The question is whether this quiet, consensus-driven way of doing things can work against a company like Oracle, which is accustomed to getting its way. I suggested it's a bit like the struggle between India and England, with Apache in the position of Gandhi, engaging in passive resistance.

Jagielski smiled and admitted the comparison may be apt. But only to a point.

"We're not a marching drum, proclaiming change. We're hesitant about being that, about calling anyone to arms. We prefer leading by example." And he left it at that.

Topic: Open Source

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16 comments
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  • India (Apache/Ghandi) vs England (Oracle)?

    Well. I think we all know who won that one. The UK lost as part of its continued decline and India is rising, albeit slowly.

    A replay is OK with me.
    Economister
  • Lead the way !!!

    The only answer I can think to is : "Lead theway ASF" !!! well follow ...
    fabior
  • Oracle doesn't deserve a company like Sun...

    If they are just going to take the work that the community has helped create (OpenOffice, MySQL, etc, etc) and run around suing everyone and making a mockery of the legal system, then they don't deserve to have any open-source projects or community support at all. Sun was a good steward of Java and other projects. Oracle is the opposite. Personally I'm glad that the community is giving Oracle the cold-shoulder. The world needs innovation and cooperation. Oracle could learn something from Google, Canonical, Red Hat, and the others.
    ed.sealing
    • RE: The Apache way meets the Oracle way

      @ed.sealing I get the feeling Oracle's business model is not based on customers loving them, but tolerating them, knowing they have no real alternative. You can do that when you control the bottom of the stack, as Microsoft proved in the 1990s. And lock-in is far more serious on the enterprise level than on the consumer level, because you can't chuck what you don't like without causing serious disruption to your business, period.
      DanaBlankenhorn
  • An arrogant, pompous playboy like..

    Larry Ellison can never be trusted. In earlier years, he ransomed the Open Source community for his trojan horse against Microsoft. Why anyone would buy his snake oil during the Sun takeover is beyond me.
    scscully@...
    • RE: The Apache way meets the Oracle way

      @scscully@... playboy? you must have a boehner for him?
      open source is the craziest concept on the planet...well right after intellectual patents that is.
      DiggityDoug
      • RE: The Apache way meets the Oracle way

        @DiggityDoug Actually I do get the impression Ellison thinks he's something special. He is 66 and looking increasingly, uh, Joan Rivers-like.
        DanaBlankenhorn
      • RE: The Apache way meets the Oracle way

        @DiggityDoug
        It's probably Larry's lack of eyebrows that hypnotized him :)
        city_zen
  • Here's a thought...

    Not sure how practical it would be but can't the open source community come up with an "alternative" to Java? Granted Sun may have been a fine steward of it - obviously Oracle want's to be the bully. Finding a way around Oracle, essentially shutting them out of the community may present itself to be a viable investment.
    JT82
    • What about legacy applications?

      @JT82 An end run around Java might be technically feasible but a lot of programmers were trained in Java and feel comfortable with the language. Also there are a lot of legacy applications written in Java.

      Realistically something that ended up being "compatible" with Java or legacy Java applications would need to be Java. You would have to license the JVM at least.

      Also selling a new technology as a replacement for Java hasn't really worked on a broad base.
      mr1972
  • RE: The Apache way meets the Oracle way

    Oracle's never really been customer focused anyway. Back when we used it exclusively every time we ran into a problem, after fiddling around with tech support for days or even weeks we'd finally hear "that's a known problem that will be fixed in the next release." Great, but that doesn't help us now and your software says it will do this when it obviously won't.
    ussafs3
  • Look at Oracle's MySQL product page

    They are charging to server editions on a free database. Sure it sounds like tools for large corporations that use a free database service. But it sounds like Oracle stripped out tools used to maintain the database and making you pay for them. I'm picturing something similar with Java7 where it'll have it's free edition, but the extra components or essential addons for visual or advance programming you'll have to pay for yourself or build yourself. I agree that Oracle does not deserve Sun Microsystems.
    Maarek
    • RE: The Apache way meets the Oracle way

      @Maarek I don't think "deserve" has much to do with it. The question is how much value can they get from what they've bought, and does this make the purchase worthwhile?

      I agree that dumping value in order to extract cash from it is like killing the goose that laid the golden eggs. But it's their goose.
      DanaBlankenhorn
  • RE: The Apache way meets the Oracle way

    @DanaBlankenhorn It felt more like everyone's goose w/ Sun's name on it for credit. We could do anything we wanted with it and share w/ everyone else.
    Maarek
    • RE: The Apache way meets the Oracle way

      @Maarek I got the impression in my talks at ApacheCon that there's sort of relief over what Oracle has done. With Sun they were always saying "it'll work out, we'll get you the details later" but nothing happened. Now at least Oracle has said what will happen, for certain, and the market needs to create a response to that.
      DanaBlankenhorn
  • RE: The Apache way meets the Oracle way

    wow @ DanaBlankenhorn fantastic reading material :)
    cybursoft