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Apache chokes on open-source philosophy

Preparing to hire full-time, paid staff. The start of a very slippery slope.

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The Apache Software Foundation (ASF) may soon have some full-time, paid staff including an executive director, according to the organisation's co-founder.

The ASF currently runs on a volunteer model, and any change to this strict philosophy will raise eyebrows right across the IT industry.

"We are at somewhat of a crossroads now in that we have grown so quickly," said Brian Behlendorf, a co-founder and director of the ASF. "The ASF is starting to outstrip the ability for people who are volunteers to be able to keep up with it, and effectively manage it."

Incredibly, its very success may see it go down the line of the traditional software business. With Apache a leading light of the open-source approach - its Web server boasts equal billing with commercial rivals in the market - such a move would create big waves.

"It is starting to get to the point where we are realising that we might need to hire a full-time executive director to help us stay on top of a lot of issues, help us craft a fund-raising strategy, help us craft an effective legal strategy," Behlendorf said. He added that the ASF's size is making the organisation difficult to operate solely on volunteer work.

Behlendorf insisted that Apache will not pay developers to write software, but that it is considering hiring staff for some of the "grunt work" such as systems administration that volunteers are not keen on doing. "Apache has ten different servers to do different things, and right now administration is a voluntary thing, and it is hard to get volunteers to carry, say, a pager and respond when there is a problem," he added.

Such a comment is likely to leave commercial competitors in fits of laughter. And although Apache currently does not expect to pay developers, once it hires full-time tech staff, it is only a very small step (and a very slippery slope) to its hiring people to work on its software.

The ASF was set up in 1999 as a not-for-profit enterprise to provide support for the Apache community of open-source software projects. The community consists of approximately 1,200 developers working on about 20 projects. A board of nine voluntary members runs its activities.

Paying for the full-time staff requires fund raising, and the executive director must handle the challenge of retaining the ASF's independence while raising funds from individuals and companies, Behlendorf said. Currently donations to the ASF are random, he added.

ASF members are currently discussing the plan to hire staff, according to Behlendorf. The ASF is also considering restricting the number of new projects it adds, and narrowing its focus to a few technology areas.

Paying for legal counsel is another possibility. According to Behlendorf, The SCO Group's legal claims against Linux made the open source community realise that it needs to be more specific about contributions' origins and getting contributor agreements and honest and clear when putting the copyright statement on the code.

So lawyers, full-time admin staff, paid executives and properly drawn-up contributor contracts. My, my, my, how times do change.

Additional reporting by John Ribeiro, IDG News Service


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