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Bill Gates takes a 'software' pie

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Some encouraging news for folks who have less than warm and fuzzy feelings for
Microsoft - Gates doesn't win 'em all.  The following article in yesterday's
WSJ was aimed at an investor audience, but even the techno-elites on this
listserv will find the story interesting.  It should be noted, too, that this
program was developed by a virtual committee, giving hope and inspiration to
technology early-adopters like Dennis.  

Frank Lew, SE
Orinda, CA

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Thursday, March 19, 1998

Apache?s Free Software Gives Microsoft, Netscape Fits

By Jared Sandberg
Staff Reporter of The Wall Street Journal

The epic struggle between Netscape and Microsoft over software for the World
Wide Web is a well-chronicled David vs. Goliath tale.  But both companies are
losing business to a rival product few people have ever heard of: Apache.
Among the best features of this little-known program is one that is
particularly hard to resist:  It is entirely free.
     Apache, it turns out, doesn?t come from a company at all.  It?s the
loving labor of a loose confederation of programmers who, working in their
spare time over gin and tonics at home and collaborating on the Internet,
wanted to build a better way to serve up Web pages to the millions of people
who want to see them.  Once they had completed this server software three
years ago, they triumphantly released all of the technical details on the
Internet, letting any Web site use it gratis.
     "Direct remuneration itself wasn?t an interest," says Brian Behlendorf,
one of the chief organizers of the Apache Project - so named because the team
started with university-lab software and "patched" it with new features and
fixes.  ("A patchy server" - get it?)  "We needed a better server for our own
purposes, and we wanted to take our future into our own hands," says Mr.
Behlendorf, who makes his living as chief technology officer at Web developer
Organic Inc.
     Now Apache server software is used by an impressive range of companies
and organizations to run their Web sites, including Kimberly-Clark Corp.,
McDonald?s Corp. and Texas Instruments Inc., as well as the New York Yankees
and the Atlanta Braves.  By some estimates, Apache is in place at close to
half of the two million Web sites on the Internet, more than double the share
held by Microsoft Corp. or Netscape Communications Corp.
     That is especially galling to the two software juggernauts.  "Apache is
our biggest competitor," Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates declared at a Wall
Street gathering over a year ago.
     Microsoft and Netscape have spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying
to build a profitable Internet business.  They hand out millions of free
copies of their browser software to help consumers navigate the Web, hoping
this will lead to increased sales of the server software they sell to
corporate customers.
     Apache?s popularity is emblematic of the strange economics underpinning
the entire Internet industry.  Five years after the Internet began to shift
from an obscure academic network to a teeming commercial enterprise, lots of
free stuff still is widely available, from "freeware" programs to slick Web
?zines to news and stock quotes.
     It?s the essence of the Internet," says Esther Dyson, founder of high-
tech publisher Edventure Holdings Inc.  "There?s an ethos to contribute to a
work that?s greater than any of us," she says.
     Randy Terbush, one of the original Apache developers and the founder of
Covalent Technologies Inc., says Apache "is testimony to what a user-driver
software project can accomplish, and why that may be a better model than
commercially driven efforts."
     But that ethos is giving Internet companies a run for their money.  "The
genie?s out of the bottle," says Eli Noam, director of Columbia University?s
Institute for TeleInformation.  "There are too many people who will continue
to offer free software that will continue to put pressure on traditional
software companies."
     The Apache project began informally in early 1995, when a handful of Web
developers were searching for robust and flexible software that could deliver
Web pages to users? desktops quickly and reliably.  Microsoft hadn?t yet
created a server program.  Netscape had an early version that lacked
sophisticated features the Apache contingent wanted.
     So Mr. Behlendorf and a few colleagues started zapping e-mail to and fro
about how to create new features and work through problems.  An original
circle of eight programmers began working on some existing software code from
a program written at a university lab, communicating via an Internet mailing
list that updated everyone on each designer?s progress.
     The list grew to 150 people, and 200 more contributors have pitched in,
many of who have never met face to face.  The first version of Apache was
ready in April, 1995, and by year end it had become the No. 1 Web server
program.
     Today Apache is said to have a 47% share of the Internet server market
compared with 22% for Microsoft and about 10% for Netscape, according to
Netcraft Ltd., a British consulting firm.  Other sources reject those figures
for several reasons, including that among the private internal "intranets"
that companies install, Microsoft and particularly Netscape hold the lead.
Still, even Microsoft?s newly acquired subsidiaries - Hotmail Corp. and WebTV
Networks Inc. - use Apache software on their Web sites.
     The market is strategically important to both of Apache?s for-profit
rivals.  Microsoft offers its Web server software as part of its crucial
Windows NT operating system, which costs $725 or more.  Netscape?s Web servers
start at $1,295 for 50 seats.  The total Web server market generated more than
$400 million in revenue in 1997, according to International Data Corp.
     One reason Apache came into its own is that the source code, the basic
software coding that most developers keep secret, is readily available on the
Internet.  That allows users to make improvements and eliminate any bugs that
emerge.  Proponents of such "open" software believe that revealing a program?s
inner workings entices more outside programmers to devote their creative
energy to building an even better version.
     "If you give everyone source code, everyone becomes your engineer," says
John Gage, chief scientist at Sun Microsystems Inc., which built its own
operating system on the early Unix version developed by the Berkeley System
Distribution effort.
     Apache fans cite another advantage: To often, software companies take too
long to fix their products, while Apache patrons can do it themselves.  "It
takes most vendors several weeks, sometimes months, to get fixes out.  We need
it within days," says Steve Madere, chief technology officer of Deja News
Inc., a heavily trafficked Web site that uses Apache software and lets users
search bulletin boards.
     Some say that getting product support for Apache is easier than getting
it from commercials vendors.  "There?s more people down in the trenches with
to" to answer questions, says Mark Foster, chief of technical operations at
Medius Interactive Inc. in Seattle, which developed Web sites for the Yankees,
Braves and Seattle Mariners.  And because he has the source code, he can peel
off features he doesn?t like and add ones he does.
     Other users such as Digital Equipment Corp. and Kimberly-Clark, say that
in some cases, Apache allowed them to do things when they set up their sites -
such as add "chat" features - that commercial programs didn?t yet offer.
Digital, which runs the popular AltaVista search service, uses Apache for the
computer that translates the site into foreign languages.
     But many corporations balk at public-domain software.  "When I get calls
in the middle of the night, I want to know I can call someone, get an answer,
and go back to sleep," says Mark Kortekaas, director of technical operations
at Sony Corp.?s Online Ventures Inc. unit in New York.
     Both Microsoft and Netscape are banking on such concerns.  "Enterprise
customers don?t want to grow their own," says John Paul, senior vice president
at Netscape.  Microsoft?s answer to Apache is to" build a better product,"
says Mike Nash, director of marketing for the Redmond, Wash., company?s server
group.
     Netscape went one step further and began to give away the source code to
its browser to spur engineers to develop variations.  But the Mountain View,
Calif., company also raised prices on its server software.
     Still, these software giants will have to compete against an increasing
number of companies springing up to support "freeware" for a fee.  C2Net
Software Inc., for example, was started by an Apache developer who added
features and now sells the software and support.
     Apache developers, many bemused by their sudden rivalry with giants, say
the free software ethos of the Internet won?t be snuffed out.  "The ethic I
learned was to use it as much as you like and do your best to give something
back,: says Chuck Murcko, one of the original Apache developers who is a
senior software engineer at Infonautics Corp. of Wayne, Pa.  "How can you
compete with an ethic like that?"