The Apache Software Foundation (ASF), a non-profit corporation of decentralized volunteers from the open source developer community, has officially approved the NetBeans IDE as a Top-Level project. NetBeans joins more than 350 other open source projects and initiatives managed by the foundation after spending two years in the Apache Incubator.
NetBeans started as a student project in 1996 in what was formerly known as Czechoslovakia. It was the first Java IDE written in Java but it soon became more than just an IDE platform, as the community began using it to create applications that weren’t development tools. In 2000, Sun Microsystems acquired NetBeans and open sourced it, making it Sun’s first sponsored open source project. It became part of Oracle when it acquired Sun Microsystems in 2010 and the company continues to sponsor the project. NetBeans is now used by more than 1.5 million users each month.
Now that Apache NetBeans is governed by the ASF, it will be more likely to receive contributions than when it belonged to a commercial entity. However, contributors from Oracle and other organizations will continue to be part of shaping its future. Coming under the ASF umbrella is also bringing some welcome developments for the project’s governance, according to Apache NetBeans Vice President Geertjan Wielenga:
Being part of the ASF means that NetBeans is now not only free and Open Source software: it is also, uniquely, and for the first time, part of a foundation specifically focused on enabling open governance. Every contributor to the project now has equal say over the roadmap and direction of NetBeans. That is a new and historic step and the community has been ready for this for a very long time. Thanks to the strong stewardship of NetBeans in Sun Microsystems and Oracle, Apache NetBeans is now ready for the next phase in its development and we welcome everyone to participate as equals as we move forward.
Oracle’s decision to submit NetBeans to the ASF Incubator came as a surprise to many in 2016. At that time, OSI President Simon Phipps shared his thoughts about the benefits he saw for the project moving to open governance under the ASF:
By moving to independent governance and losing the Oracle CLA, others can join in with confidence their contribution won’t be used against them. More importantly, contributors also no longer need fear the transient decisions of cost-cutting Oracle VPs impacting the long-term viability of the project. Oracle’s Java team still needs NetBeans in order to make tools releases supporting new capabilities in Java 9 and later, so are likely to engage. Rather than withdrawal, this looks more like leveraging the ecosystem around NetBeans to sustain development while keeping Oracle’s costs in line with the direct benefit NetBeans delivers to them.
According to the proposal submitted to the ASF for NetBeans’ acceptance into the Incubator, the majority of code contributions have come from Oracle since it acquired Sun Microsystems. In addressing some of the known risks Oracle faces in contributing NetBeans to the ASF, the proposal states that “the size and diversity of the community is a guarantee against the project being orphaned.”
NetBean’s proposal said the purpose of moving NetBeans to Apache is to “expand the diversity of contributors and to increase the level of meritocracy.” The project already has a good foundation to build on, as its application framework is used by large companies and organizations, including Boeing, Airbus Defense and Space, NASA, and NATO, that depend on NetBeans for building mission critical scientific software. This new era of open governance should give the community a stronger sense of ownership and stimulate greater levels of contribution across the project.