Apache Group: 'I Am Spartacus'

Asking any one of the core developers of the Apache Server Project to stand up and take due credit provokes an answer akin to the one received by the Roman soldier who asked the rebel band of Greek slaves to point out their leader, Spartacus. To show unity against their enemy and to protect their leader, they all stood and said, "I am Spartacus."

What started five years ago as a modest effort by another rebel band to produce a commercial reference implementation of the HTTP protocol is now the open-source community's shining jewel which it holds up to the proprietary world to prove what can be done with a true and open meritocracy.

That once commercial reference implementation now serves as a central platform on which some of the industry's biggest vendors and users build mission-critical, Web-based applications. By general acclaim, it has done more to stimulate Web development -- and therefore e-commerce -- than any other Web-based server.

The business case to be made for Apache for users small and large is fairly obvious and simple, at least according to its creators: It is free, available everywhere, and continuously developed.

Getting to the heart of why Apache's success has been so dramatic and swift, one of its most important contributor's says, has everything to do with trust and respect among the tightly knit development group.

"The big difference is that Apache doesn't just talk the talk about being a meritocracy; it walks it. There is a high degree of trust and respect amongst members to defer to each other without worrying that something will go wrong," says James Davidson, whose day job is senior engineer at Sun Microsystems Inc., whose "other job" is Instigator at Large, and who sits on the Apache Software Foundation Board.

In early 1995, HTTP was developed by Rob McCool at the University of Illinois' National Center for Supercomputing Applications. Development stopped shortly thereafter when McCool left the center. But a small group of Webmasters who were developing their own bug fixes contacted each other by e-mail to coordinate their efforts.

Brian Behlendorf and Cliff Skolnick then put together a mailing list and agreed to share space and log-ins for a core group of programmers on a server in the San Francisco Bay area.

That group of eight, the original Apache Group, consisted of Behlendorf and Skolnick, Roy Fielding, Rob Hartill, David Robinson, Randy Terbush, Robert Thau, and Andrew Wilson. Additional contributions were made by Eric Hagberg, Frank Peters, and Nicolas Pioch.

Today the core group of founders focuses more on business issues and security problems, according to the members. Much of the technology's development now is done over the Web by hundreds of programmers on the mailing list who everyday discuss what new features and bug fixes to add, as well as what user problems need to be addressed.

Few on the team are willing to predict how Apache will evolve technically over the next few years, other than to say it will no longer be a C language-based Web server.

But one thing is for sure: The group will still be proudly standing as one.

Apache Group

Age: 5

Current position: Almost anywhere you find the InternetTechnology prediction: Beyond C to the world of Java-based Web development

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