Apache Foundation and corporate engagement
As I remember the story, back in the late 1990's IBM, seeing a need for a http server for the rapidly developing internet market, looked at a couple of alternatives, developing one in-house or adopting the http server developed at the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). The NCSA http server project had been terminated at the NCSA, but the http server continued to be supported by a group of eight developers. As I remember it IBM decided that it would be more cost effective and would make more sense from a market perspective to adopt what was the de facto industry standard. But IBM insisted that for this to work there had to be a legal entity with which IBM as a corporation could commercially and and legally engage. And so on March 25, 1999, the Apache Software Foundation was formed and the rest is history. IBM and ultimately many others adopted and distribute the Apache server. As of September 2012 it was estimated that Apache serves about 55% of all active websites. From an industry perspective adopting the Apache server was a much more cost-effective alternative than if HP, Oracle, IBM, Sun, and others had each developed their own http server.
Back in 2005/2006 I was working with Dave McIlhagga to interest Autodesk in becoming a corporate sponsor of open source geospatial software, and I saw a similar scenario played out. It seemed to many of us that it would be more cost-effective for companies to share web-mapping software infrastructure rather than each develop its own web mapping server. At that point there was already well-developed and well-known open source geospatial projects whose code was being used all over the world. The best known examples were the University of Minnesota's MapServer project and Frank Warnerdam's GDAL geo-imagery libraries. Again Autodesk insisted that there had to be a legal entity with which as a corporation it could engage. The Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGEO) was modeled loosely on the Apache Foundation and was founded in March, 2006 with Autodesk as the major sponsor. The OSGEO has been incredibly successful. It has grown rapidly to support 25 or so projects, some in incubation, 20 chapters worldwide, and a national conference, FOSS4G, which last year in Denver attracted about 900 participants.
The next step
As a recent article
has pointed out, 15 years ago when open source was just beginning, the
discussion was focussed on the total cost of open source vs proprietary,
alternative open source business models, and open source as an
alternative to monopolistic proprietary.
Since then open source has come a long way. One of the most important developments is the rise of the open source foundation driven by the need for corporate engagement. These non profit legal entities offer projects important benefits that are difficult for a project to fund on its own.
- A host for managing fiscal and intellectual property shared resources such as trademarks and shared copyrights
- An employer for staff serving the community and project
- A guarantor and enabler for governance
- An infrastructure provider
- A liability firewall for community participants
Two examples of such foundations are the Apache Software Foundation and the Eclipse Foundation. These foundation encourage trust in the long term stability of the projects they support and, most importantly for enterprise software, they encourage corporate participation.
The other major development is in the area of licensing. The Open Source Initiative (OSI) lists 69 different licenses that range from the Gnu Public License (GPL) to the very liberal MIT/BSD style licences. Recent years have seen the development of licences in the middle ground that are designed to be business friendly, in particular to allow mixing of open source and proprietary modules. The Eclipse Public Licence (EPL) is an example of such as licence and is a critical reason that large corporations such as IBM and Oracle are important supporters of the Eclipse Foundation.
There is a pent up interest for geospatially enabling enterprise information technology. For open source projects interested in encouraging adoption and support from vendors in this area, doing business implies corporate engagement with companies such as IBM, Oracle, and other major IT vendors.
A number of people advocating for open source geospatial software have seen the need for services and facilitates to enable corporate engagement. In my view, the type of projects that are seeking corporate engagement would be attracted to the Eclipse Foundation. The Eclipse Foundation provides services to reduce friction for organizations to re-use and contribute to open source projects. This supports business developing products and services that depend upon open source and in turn, the open source projects benefit from re-use, investment, and increased credibility.
Based on this thinking Andrew Ross, well known for his work in a variety of open source communities, initiated what is now officially known as the Eclipse Foundation LocationTech Working Group along with a team of representatives from notable companies and open source projects. In my and others view. the LocationTech Working Group fills an important gap in the enterprise geospatial market. A close relationship between OSGEO and LocationTech is advantageous to the broad open source community because they are both serving the community, but in different, complementary ways.