It’s April 2nd, so the Apache Software Foundation’s 2010 April Fools’ joke is over. Here is why I liked it a lot. It represents a hypothetical: What if the ASF and its projects could be bought? Or, if not bought, then put under control or strong influence of corporate interests like in traditional open source consortia? It would put the very software infrastructure we take for granted under partisan control and there is no guarantee that those partisan or corporate interests would be in the interest of the public good.
This is not to say all open source is or should be a public good; much is not and probably never should be. There needs to be ample room for commercially motivated innovation using an open source approach. But I’d rather not have software at the core of the Internet that is owned or controlled in any way by a particular interest group or corporation. The availability of community open source that everyone can build on has sped up innovation on the net to an unprecedented scale. Few software startups these days choose a closed source or commercial open source stack.
I like the utilities metaphor. If software/platform/infrastructure-as-a-service providers are the new utilities of the Internet age, then you don’t want anyone to control major parts of these providers’ raw materials, that is the software they are using for their services. If anyone was able to restrict the access of computing utility providers to their materials, *-as-a-service could be controlled more easily, barriers to market entry would arise, and innovation would slow down. The community open source provided by the ASF, the A in LAMP (and much more), is a major part of those raw materials, and so I’m glad the April Fools’ joke was just that, a joke, but with depth to it.