In a town that thrives on sucking money out of peoples' pockets, it was ironic to see Brian Behlendorf, co-founder and president of the Apache Software Foundation (ASF), taking the stage here Sunday to discuss the status of the Apache -- the prominent Web server that the ASF simply gives away.
The Apache Server stands as one of the open source movement's biggest success stories, with the software sitting on at least 60 percent of the Web servers worldwide, according to the ASF. Apache runs many of the Net's most prominent sites and has managed to fend off commercial vendors looking to make headway in the Web server market for some time.
Behlendorf teamed with seven other Web masters in 1995 to develop the basic Apache code. Since that time, the ASF has grown substantially, with the technology advancing in step with the organization's expansion. The ASF relies on volunteer efforts to keep open-source software running the Web and has thrived on the grass roots effort up to this point. Open source development depends on contributions by developers, primarily volunteers collaborating over the Internet, who typically distribute code for free over the Web.
Now, however, Behlendorf said the ASF may need to look for a little cash to keep up with the demands that developing the leading Web server requires.
"We have found some things that we may actually have to go out and pay for," Behlendorf said. "We might take donations and pay for certain things, like advocacy."
He pointed to a couple of areas, in particular, where the ASF has struggled in the past. "We don't have someone who is dedicated to full-time evangelizing," Behlendorf said.
While he and others meet the public on occasion, he looked for the ASF to benefit from a heavier marketing presence. He also said that ASF may begin to be seen as on old boy's club of sorts. Behlendorf hopes to bring some fresh blood into the group and make sure that discussions and documentation be more widely disseminated than they have been in the past. In addition, the ASF will look to increase its hardware compatibility. "As much as we like to make fun of NT, it is really nice to have Apache run really well on NT."
Behlendorf said that many of the people running the ASF now have business ventures and projects of their own, which tends to slow some of the logistical tasks associated with the organization. In particular, he pointed to the ASF's underdeveloped Web site -- www.apache.org -- as one area that might require funding. In addition, funding could be used with other operational aspects of the ASF and to help promote Apache in the years to come.
"We have to ask what we want to be when we grow up," Behlendorf said. "When IBM (Corp.) came to us and said we would like to get involved with Apache, they asked who they could write a check to, but we didn't really have anything set up."
Now, however, the ASF may well look for ways to keep its 51-member-strong organization running. The group currently consists of individuals in the U.S., Europe, Australia and Israel, and Behlendorf now hopes to start getting some developers from other parts of the globe. While open source software -- including the Linux operating system -- claims a myriad of users in regions like Asia, Behlendorf hopes to draw more contributions from non-U.S. developers.
The ASF has taken on a new formal structure to handle the project's future and take some of the heat off the current volunteers driving the effort. The ASF is now incorporated in Maryland and has set up a separate group of volunteers dedicated to handling legal issues which arise from time to time.
The ASF could also allocate some cash to its Bugzilla initiative, designed to help developers keep track of and implement patches. Additionally, the Jakarta project -- the ASF's attempt to build open-source, commercial applications based on Java -- could be a good place to stash some contributions.
With Sun Microsystems Inc. spending time and resources on Jakarta, as well as its own open-source StarOffice productivity suite, the company could make a further open-source push if the current initiatives show success, Behlendorf said.
Any funds coming in from major vendors such as Sun and IBM would likely go to the day-to-day administrative activities developers traditionally seem less interested in. With a few extra bodies maintaining the ASF Web site, publicizing Apache and watching over the ASF's servers, Apache could expand even further into the Web's back-end.
The beta version of Apache 2.0 should appear in a couple of weeks, Behlendorf said. He mentioned that the much publicized music swapping company Napster Inc. is using a version very close to the Apache 2.0 beta to run its site at this time.
"Apache was and is the killer app of the open-source market," Behlendorf said. "We just want to make sure we don't give commercial vendors any reason to complain about it."
The ASF is at www.apache.org.