Last Friday, Microsoft announced that it was becoming a platinum level sponsor of the Apache Software Foundation, equivalent to 100,000 USD per year. Apache is a community of open source developers and users, famous for bringing together the team that built the first serious Web server (which is still used to deliver at least 50% of the world’s webpages).
So why does this matter? Outside the open source community, few people will have heard of Apache or even care too much about which software is delivering their webpages. What is of wider relevance is what this says about Microsoft’s attitude to open source code more generally.
For many open source types, Microsoft sits at the pinnacle of the proprietary software industry and are little more than the devil incarnate. In recent months though there have been big personnel changes at Microsoft, not least with the retirement of Bill Gates and the appointment of Ray Ozzie as Chief Software Architect. This has coincided with an increasing interest in open source software development, with staff participating in open projects and the launching of initiatives such as the Port25 blog, which is a conduit for the views of open source developers within the company.
On the face of it the sponsorship of Apache is a big step down the open source route, since it involves putting up cash. It is also interesting as Microsoft make IIS, Apache Web Server’s leading competitor. I’ll have a lot more to say about this once I’ve done the research for a new article I’ve just been commissioned to write, which is due this winter. In the meantime though, one thought strikes me. If you read Sam Ramji’s posting on Port 25 you’ll notice that he says: “[the sponsorship] is a strong endorsement of The Apache Way”. The Apache Way is the project management and governance process that Apache’s community of developers have built up over the years. I really do have an open mind on all this, but could it be that what Microsoft is really interested in is learning about how open development can be more efficient that traditional coding methods?