Now that NetBeans is in the Apache Incubator, here are some feelings from my side on the process and on where we currently are.
- Philosophically always Apache. I've been involved with NetBeans since about 2004, when I joined Sun Microsystems in Prague. It was always the case that with NetBeans we were trying to do something bigger than serve the interests of a specific commercial entity—NetBeans has always been a platform for innovation and sharing. It's always been free and open source and it has always focused on enabling software developers all over the world to simply get started quickly and easily with Java, primarily, and over the years with other languages and technologies too. While there have been benefits to being tightly coupled to specific commercial interests, that coupling has never been part of the DNA of NetBeans. Philosophically, NetBeans has always been an Apache project and has always behaved in that way, i.e., it's always been primarily about individuals rather than commercial interests.
- Continual demands for more open participation. Over the years, there's been a clamoring from the community for the commercial interests behind NetBeans, i.e., Sun Microsystems and then Oracle, to open up the contribution and governance models of NetBeans to enable direct and equal participation, almost as if its users have seen NetBeans as something that always should have been treated by its commercial sponsor like an Apache project all along. The contribution and governance models have been opaque, to say the least, and it's always been the commercial sponsor (i.e., Sun and later Oracle) that has driven the NetBeans roadmap—and in the cases where community interaction on roadmap etc was slightly opened up, for specific releases, it was always the commercial sponsor that made the decision to enable that to happen. However, amazingly, despite all that, NetBeans has built up a very active and enthusiastic community all over the world, with mailing lists, forums, an advocacy group (NetBeans Dream Team), monthly NetBeans events around the world, broad usage across the industry, high usage in education, etc. In NetBeans, its users have always seen a range of high quality free tools and technologies, and an inspiring philosophy of sharing and innovation, beyond those that the commercial sponsor has found it important to promote.
- Shared leadership, shared responsibility. Oracle's interests are broad and diverse. Within its specific scope of interest, it is not a tool provider. Nevertheless, Oracle has a range of investments in a variety of different tools, all at the same time. That makes perfect sense, when you examine each instance of that. In some cases, the investments are historical and in others strategic. Together with that, consider how the community has changed over the years and how much stronger and cohesive open source has become. Would it not make sense to share the leadership of projects across multiple entities rather than having it locked into one specific commercial sponsor? And is that train of thought not exactly in line with the clamoring for more involvement and engagement with the community? What better way, then, than to open up the contribution and governance model via the Apache Software Foundation? Everyone who is invested in NetBeans continues to be invested in NetBeans, while its roadmap, governance model, etc, are shared between all those different entities within a model that has proven to work well.
And that's where we are right now. The NetBeans proposal has been accepted and NetBeans is now in the Apache Incubator. Many things need to happen before NetBeans graduates and becomes a Top Level Project. The hurdles to cross have been examined on all sides and none seem unsolvable. There's a long journey ahead (many months at least) at the end of which the philosophy underpinning NetBeans will match the structures used to govern it. Sometimes there are win/win situations in the world and this surely is one of them.