Why Apache keeps Google at a safe distance

Google likes the Apache license, but Google is not an Apache member.

The relationship between Apache and Google is a bit like that between England and America.

It's special, it can be close, but if you want to start a fight just call a Brit an "American poodle" or Apache a Google follower. I did, and it was the one point in my talk with them that things got vewy, vewy quiet.

After I finished yammering at them, they quietly sat me down to set me straight.

Ross Gardler of OSSWatch is Apache's vice president for community development. Its main project is Google's annual "summer of code." But he is quite anxious to discuss other projects that have nothing to do with Google.

"We are working on a mentoring program that doesn't rely on Google, that isn't limited geographically or limited to just students," he said. It's for programmers who want to know how open source works and how to work within Apache.

Apache is mainly just a giant mailing list. As it continues to grow this can be more-and-more intimidating to a newbie, even a mature programmer from a corporate background. The idea behind the mentoring program is to give new faces an ally, someone to lead them in the Apache way and help them be heard.

"We've had two people from IBM through," Gardler said. You wouldn't think an IBM-er would feel nervous about being part of a mailing list, but if you don't know how people might react, if you don't know the folkways, you can remain a lurker forever.

Gardler is also working with Seneca College of Toronto on creating a course about open source. A textbook is in the works, modules are being created, and there is talk about going to market with it through O'Reilly or Flat World when it's ready.

Yes, Google likes the Apache license, but Google is not an Apache member. (NOTE: Only individuals are members. It's more proper to say a high-level sponsor. There was no Google table at ApacheCon in Atlanta.) It's big enough to take on big projects by itself, it doesn't need a club to be a power, and if it were an Apache membera higher level sponsor it might be like an elephant in a row boat -- big enough to tip the thing over.

This is what Gardler secretly hopes happens with Java and Oracle's efforts to maintain a community for what looks increasingly like a proprietary corporate project.

What individuals say, think or do "makes no difference unless the money walks away. Google is the money, Google has walked away and we'll soon find out what happens."

Sounded to me like Churchill after FDR signed Lend-Lease, but you can understand where he's coming from. Apache is not a financial power. It's just a mailing list. It's only through persuasion, by having real powers agree its principles make sense, that Apache matters.

Google can do what it wants but if it chooses to follow the Apache way it can be a force for good in the software world. So can any open source company.