Apache Incubator: Extraordinary Made Ordinary, the Subversion case

Few days ago Subversion has been submitted to the Apache Incubator, a move praised by many as the natural fit for both projects, both for technical reasons (Apache projects use Subversion, Subversion relies on many Apache projects) and a shared vision about IP (same license) and community governance (same voting process).

Bill Portelli, Collabnet CEO, and Justin Erenkrantz,  Apache Software Foundation President, answered few questions aimed at better  understanding if and at which extent this is a win-win move. Let’s start from the corporate side.

Bill, how does this move fit into CollabNet’s open source strategy?

CollabNet leverages open source to create business value both for us, and for our customers and partners. For instance, open source

  1. enables operational scalability and cost benefits both in our data centers as well as in our customers’ on-site deployments (e.g., one of our deployment options is LAMP based);
  2. provides CollabNet’s users with ease of adoption benefits (e.g., all of the desktop tool integrations into CollabNet Team Forge such as our Eclipse and Visual Studio desktops are open source; and of course, the primary SCM we support is Subversion (among other SCMs);
  3. amplifies CollabNet development and accelerates innovation by utilizing a highly leveraged and open development model (e.g., we bring our clients into our SW development process – both our proprietary CollabNet Team Forge software, as well as in working with the Subversion community which includes general community members, Subversion users, our business partners, and even our competitors).

Strategically, the transition of Subversion from CollabNet hosted Tigris.org to Apche.org was done principally because CollabNet, the Subversion community, and the Apache community all believed that we could accelerate Subversion innovation (point iii above) by leveraging the synergies between the Subversion and the Apache Community. Synergies exist due to:
i) Community Leverage – Given the large Apache committer base and their semi-annual developer events, Subversion will benefit from the additional outreach and large developer community.
ii) Longstanding affinity between Subversion and Apache projects – Subversion and Apache have a long history together. From a developer perspective, many of the same people founded and continue to work on both projects. From a technology perspective, both projects utilize capabilities and have driven innovation of the other (e.g., core Subversion, the Apache httpd web server and the Apache portable runtime library (APR).

Looking at  the whole open source SCM offering, while Subversion code base keeps growing, active contributors are less than Git and Mercurial ones. In this respect joining the Apache foundation seems a smart move to gather more attention and contributors.

What are the direct and collateral benefits CollabNet is expecting?

As stated above, this move to Subversion will accelerate innovation, which in turn will benefit our clients and business partners, and CollabNet. In other words, whatever is good for Subversion is good for CollabNet as a key community member. Subversion has and always will be a community in which the personal and business gains which can be derived is a direct function of the value added development and marketing investment which is made into the community. As it founder, and historical steward, CollabNet will continue to invest, and even increase our Subversion commitments as Subversion’s adoption in the industry grows.

Sharing innovation efforts and reducing software production costs are key here.

Let’s now have a look at the community side.

Talking about the Apache individual-centric approach, I asked Justin if the fact that the incubation relies on an Apache person is a an opportunity or a seatback.

As a long-time contributor to Subversion and a member of the ASF, I’m personally very very excited to be a mentor to Subversion as it joins Apache. In the mentoring process, I’m joined by several other Apache members:  Greg Stein, Sander Striker, and Dan Rall. Our responsibility will be to guide Subversion through the ASF processes as it becomes a new Apache project. In addition to the four of us, a number of other Subversion committers are already Apache members and committers to other Apache projects (usually HTTP Server and APR). This overlap of community was a significant reason for Subversion to join Apache – but we realize that not all incoming projects are going to have such familiarity even before the Incubation process begins!

The Apache Incubation model is centered around supporting new projects that our individual members are interested in. As we’ve discussed earlier this year, committers on our various projects (over 70 top-level projects) are elected to be members of the foundation. One of the coolest things that a member of the ASF can do is sponsor and mentor a new project into the foundation. Therefore, as a grassroots individual-centric organization, we are wholly driven by what projects our members want to see. In turn, we hope that the new project participants will eventually become members themselves and help us further expand the foundation. And, again, the mentors are involved (at a social level) in helping the new project learn the “Apache Way” and shepherding them through the Apache processes.

Subversion story is pretty unique and probably incubating existing projects with a background has pros and cons,
can comment on this?

Generally speaking, our incubation processes are focused on two aspects: legal and community. In a project like Subversion, it’s operated under the consensual decision-making processes that are the hallmark of the ASF. It already boasts a diverse range of contributors (over 55 “full” committers and 20 “partial” committers) from a diverse set of backgrounds and employers. With such a strong community, there is little for Apache to teach about how to run the community.

A while back, the Subversion community created the Subversion Corporation to gather all of the intellectual property around Subversion. Under the Subversion Corporation banner, we collected all of the legal paperwork (in the form of CLAs and CCLAs) required to have a strong provenance for the Subversion code.

But, having this indepedent corporation came at a price: maintaining the corporation took us away from doing what we do best: create Subversion!
So, the Subversion community looked at our options and decided that the ASF represented a natural fit for where we wanted Subversion to reside going forward. We expect very little to change over the long run – but, there will be some short-term pain as we transition our services to apache.org.


Greg Stein in a interview answering a question about the Subversion ‘Apache-readiness’ status said that ASF letting Subversion bypassed the incubation process would have set a poor precedent. Even if Subversion will likely spend a small time in its incubation stadium,  both because of the already existing community culture and because probably little IP clearance is needed, following the same rules for every project is definitely a wise decision.
Last but not least, can you tell something about the Apache mark?

Even though we give our code away under a permissive set of copyright and patent licenses, our community places a very high value on protecting our name. Through the labors of our community, we have established Apache as a well-regarded brand amongst the industry.

Therefore, while we are delighted/encouraged/supportive of anyone taking our code for any use that they can conceive of – we do not sanction use of our name in those endeavors. (Due to the ins/outs of trademark law, there is a concept called “nominative use” which is always permitted.)

We recently published our trademark policy which goes into much more technical detail (including explaining “nominative use” and other basics of trademark!) at: http://www.apache.org/foundation/marks/

Thank you both for your answers!