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The 10 Most Important Products of the Decade
Number 6: Apache Web Server
October 2, 2000
By Gregory Yerxa
Hypertext was the hot buzzword, and the power of the Web began to fuel the Internet explosion, which, to this day, shows no signs of slowing. The source of this boom was the Web server, and the first commonly used server was the NCSA (National Center for Supercomputing Applications) HTTPd.
But by early 1995, development work on NCSA's HTTPd had virtually come to a halt. Various independent programmers then picked up the project where the NCSA left off, preferring HTTPd to the commercial alternatives. The most dedicated of these coding warriors eventually banded together to work from the standard NCSA code base and to incorporate the myriad code patches and updates that were floating around the Internet. Their efforts were the beginnings of a patchy server project (hence the name of their organization, Apache Server Project).
With its serendipitous beginnings, their product, the Apache Web Server, provides an extremely flexible and feature-rich open-source alternative to those Web servers offered by industry leaders Microsoft and iPlanet (formerly the Sun-Netscape Alliance). Popular with weekend-warrior Webmasters as well as many big-name sites, Apache Web Server today is the most widely used of all Web servers. According to the Netcraft Web Server survey (www.netcraft.com), it achieved that position approximately one year after the Apache Server Project began and has continued to gain adherents ever since.
Apache Web Server's modularity is partially responsible for its popularity during the past five years. Widely heralded for its ability to incorporate new functionality in the form of server modules, Apache Web Server accommodates nearly unlimited configurations and applications, and still posts competitive performance numbers. With a well-published module format and API, Apache has spawned numerous specialized efforts aimed at furthering its abilities as a Web server.
These inspired projects include Java Apache, the Jakarta Project, the Apache XML Project, mod_perl and PHP. Mod_perl further extends Apache's ability to integrate new functionality by streamlining the use of PERL to create new modules in-house. PHP, short for PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor, has come out of the Apache development community as an alternative to technologies such as Microsoft's ASP (Active Server Pages) and a more robust CGIBIN (Common Gateway Interface Binary) convention.
To top it all off, with Apache having been ported to so many different platforms, the server will probably run on any machine you can turn on. It'll be a cold day in hell before Microsoft or any other commercial Web server vendor can support so many competing platforms.
Apache Web Server is perhaps the best example of the open-source movement at work. Just as swiftly as the server has been widely adopted, so have innovative technologies such as Java and XML been added. With a developer base of actual users, Apache Web Server typically is updated with the newest technologies long before commercial equivalents are. In fact, because of Apache Web Server's modular nature and open-source roots, competing technologies sometimes are simultaneously in development, with Webmasters left to choose which technology fits their needs best.
Although the Mosaic browser tops our list for revolutionizing the desktop, Apache Web Server earns its place for changing the rules on the server side. The future of Apache hinges on its ability to function as an e-commerce server. If the past five years are any indication, Apache Web Server will deliver the whole shopping cart--and probably sooner than its competitors do.