June 18, 2012, 3:17 PM — Open source vendor GeekNet is turning a new page in the SourceForge story today with a proposal to the Apache Software Foundation to accept the Allura software platform within the ASF as a new Incubator project.
The move may be a way to keep the code for Allura open if GeekNet ultimately opts to sell the SourceForge web site.
Allura is the name for the actual forge software that runs behind the scenes for all of SourceForge's forge product, handing code hosting, discussion forums, wikis, and ticket management, just to name a few features.
According to the proposal sent to the ASF this afternoon, Allura is a revamp of the original SourceForge code base.
"In the last two years, the back-end has been completely rewritten, and has been Open Source since the beginning of that process. This rewritten code comprises Allura," wrote Rich Bowen, one of Allura's authors.
Bowen outlined an extensive rationale for submitting the Allura code to the ASF, indicating that as an Apache project, the forge software platform will enable other companies to have access to the source code for their own purposes. And not just other vendors, but also project participants hosted on SourceForge itself.
"We also believe strongly in giving project communities as much control over their destiny as possible, even if this means enabling them to take their project elsewhere. Allura is built to give projects complete control over their data, and Allura itself being Open Source contributes to this by giving them input into the hosting environment as well. Having Allura within Apache, and outside of direct SourceForge control, will give our development communities even more control of their projects," Bowen wrote.
This is yet-another highly visible software project donated to the ASF in recent months, lending the ASF even more credibility within the general open source community. The move should be beneficial for both parties, if Allura accepted by the ASF. The change will not be terribly drastic, either; Allura has always been licensed under the Apache Software License, so there won't be the kinds of code-cleanup issues that Apache OpenOffice has had to endure due to its former GPL/LGPL status.
The change is notable enough, though, because sometimes donating your code to the ASF is perceived as giving up on that product (again, such as Oracle did with OpenOffice.org).
This is an observation Roberto Galoppini, SourceForge Senior Director of Business Development at Geeknet, disputes.
"We are not giving away the Crown jewels, we just found out that the easiest and the most socially acceptable way to win in the open source space is by playing by the rules," Galoppini told me today. "No one else can compete with us in terms of outreach, hence we don't need to worry about third parties 'stealing' our platform. We can just strengthen our position by welcoming others to innovate. Talented developers are probably the best at inventing their own future, and we look forward to see how this turns out."
Still, after news last month that Geeknet was reviewing plans to sell its online media business, including the Slashdot, Freecode, and yes, SourceForge web sites, it's very hard not to connect the dots.
[Update: But apparently the wrong dots. According to Galoppini, he has been lobbying for this change for months, well ahead of any plans by GeekNet to sell off SourceForge, if that's what ends up happening. The article will be tweaked a bit to reflect this timing.]
Even if it isn't directly related to GeekNet's May decision to review ownership of SourceForge, this proposal to the ASF is likely a way to keep the code for SourceForge open to all should they decide to sell the SourceForge web site. With the Allura code in the hands of the ASF, any future buyer of the SourceForge web site would be unable to prevent users (and even GeekNet) from seeing the code, because the ASF will own the copyright.
Of course, Geeknet has only announced its intentions to sell SourceForge as an option, so it's not for sure this will even come to pass. And, of course, the ASF will need to formally accept the Incubator proposal for Allura to make this discussion relevant at all.
Still, watching SourceForge change hands like this is like watching the end of an era, the heady days of VA Linux and early open source. If it lands in the ASF, though, the chances are high that SourceForge will live on.
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