IBM: Eclipse faces challenges ahead

Eclipse will have to deal with its own success and the challenges that success presents, said Lee Nackman, a CTO and vice-president at IBM Rational Software who was involved in founding the open source platform. Speaking at the EclipseCon 2005 conference earlier this month in Burlingame, Calif., Nackman stressed that growth presents challenges.

“The biggest challenge but also the biggest pleasure in some way is the challenge of growth,” he said. Eclipse cannot stagnate but must maintain the good things that have made the project successful, said Nackman, adding that quality maintenance is also an issue.

Balancing stability with growth means Eclipse must cope with developers becoming dependent on Eclipse offerings, which makes it harder to change the technology, Nackman said. Eclipse must carefully manage the evolution of APIs, he noted.

Nackman pointed to another issue facing the open source platform: finding workable business models. There will be a line between what Eclipse does for free and what value-added technologies are sold by participating vendors, he said.

Additionally, Nackman raised the question of whether Eclipse might have so much technology available that there will be no market for tools. “I expect that’s not what’s going to happen,” he said.

Conceptual integrity also poses a challenge. “The challenge I see is how do we keep the conceptual integrity that made Eclipse so good in the first place,” while maintaining uniformity and integrity, Nackman said. Balancing innovation and overlap is an issue as well, along with keeping Eclipse from becoming too complex, said Nackman.

Eclipse, Nackman said, has succeeded “beyond the wildest dream of what many of us in the early days could have imagined.

“If you look beyond Visual Studio, Eclipse is the game” in tools, he said. Although IBM Corp. is no longer the proprietor of Eclipse, having spun it off into the independent Eclipse Foundation last year, IBM remains committed to the project, Nackman said.

“I can say very bluntly that IBM is more committed to Eclipse than ever,” Nackman said. “We have more developers committed to Eclipse projects than a year ago and more than any other vendor.”

An audience member noted his company has had commercial success using Eclipse technologies. “It’s definitely worked out for our company,” said Stephen Elsemore, an official with SoftLanding Systems. His company has used Eclipse to build help desk, change control, and issue-tracking software for use with IBM iSeries hardware.

“There’s just so much we would have to build ourselves that we get for free,” Elsemore said. Nackman’s presentation detailed the genesis of Eclipse as a Java IDE project in 1998 on up to its divestiture by IBM. “We got feedback from analysts that despite the fact that we were bending over backwards to not tighten control of what Eclipse was doing, the perception was that this was IBM-controlled,” he said, in explaining the decision to shed Eclipse.

Challenging Microsoft Corp.’s Visual Studio was a major impetus for Eclipse, Nackman added.

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