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Internet Server Software: A Feather In Apache's Cap


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INTERNET SERVER SOFTWARE: A FEATHER IN APACHE'S CAP

IBM throws its weight behind the "freeware" program

Pop quiz: What company makes the most popular software for running Internet servers? If you guessed Microsoft or Netscape, you're wrong. It's the Apache Group--which isn't even a company but a coalition of volunteer programmers who work on the Apache server program and distribute it for free across the Net. While it might not be a household name, Apache runs on roughly half of all servers connected to the Net, including those at Yahoo!, UUnet, and Digital Equipment.

Apache is about to get a higher profile, however, and that could shake up the Internet software business. On June 22, IBM is expected to throw its weight behind the "freeware" program by announcing plans to provide support for companies that use Apache--the same way it supports its own software products. It also plans to join in the development of new versions of the software, adding features that appeal to corporate customers. IBM won't charge for basic Apache software but will charge for these add-on products.

Why is IBM, which pays thousands of programmers to come up with products to sell, getting into freeware? It will help restart IBM's Net software strategy, which has been built around products such as Notes and Domino from Lotus Development Corp. By adopting Apache, IBM gets the market-leading Web server--which it plans to mesh with Web server software from Lotus. That's a potent antidote to Microsoft's Web offerings

It's also shaking up the status quo. With IBM's support, companies that felt uneasy about relying on a freeware product may now adopt it. "Suddenly it's a much safer decision today than it was yesterday," says Bob Young, the president of Red Hat Software, a freeware shop in Durham, N.C.

IBM's embrace of Apache is also a rebuff to Netscape (page 106), which is trying to rebuild its strategy around server programs for corporations. For the past few years, IBM and Netscape have talked about teaming up more intensely. Now, that seems unlikely to happen. Worse, the move puts a fresh squeeze on Netscape's profits. Microsoft already gives away a basic Web server with its NT operating system, and now Apache is a more serious threat in the business market. Netscape has already sacrificed profits on its browser--choosing to give it away to match Microsoft. IBM figures that Web server software should be free. "This type of server is a commodity," says Paraic Sweeney, IBM's vice-president for Web server marketing. IBM and other companies will focus on higher value-added products such as applications programs that run on top of the basic server programs, he says.

Will IBM's Apache maneuver lead more big players to go into freeware? This "will make Microsoft and Netscape sit up and take notice," says Randy Terbush, a member of the Apache board and the chief technology officer for Covalent Technologies. Netscape, Oracle, and Sun Microsystems are said to be considering supporting Apache as well as Linux, a popular freeware operating system. "You're going to see this huge avalanche of serious commercial organizations" jumping on the freeware bandwagon, says Young. The more the merrier--for customers, that is.By Amy Cortese with Ira Sager in New YorkReturn to top

TABLE

IBM Aims to Be No. 1

WEBSERVER

MARKET SHARE

Apache 49%

Netscape 9%

Microsoft 22%

DATA: NETCRAFT

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