Momentum builds around Eclipse

Looking to strengthen its position in the software development tools market, IBM Corp. announced Monday that an additional 13 vendors have agreed to join its open source project Eclipse, and will offer tools that plug into the development environment.

The new participants include major software vendors SAP AG, Hewlett-Packard Co. and Oracle Corp. , and bring the group’s total to 30. As members, the companies commit to contributing technology and development to ongoing Eclipse projects.

IBM also said Monday that it would launch three open-source projects within the Eclipse consortium to create plug-ins for writing code in the Cobol programming language, for adding collaboration features to software, and for automating software quality checking and modeling.

The growing support for Eclipse reflects a larger trend in software development where vendors including Borland Software Corp. and Rational Software Corp. are gravitating toward common frameworks, known as IDEs (integrated development environments), that they can plug products into.

The way IBM sees it, “Building you’re own tools platform would be the equivalent of building your own HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) server,” said Scott Hebner, director of marketing for IBM’s WebSphere division. “Why do that when you’ve got Apache?”

Tools vendors benefit from the approach because they can build products that fit into a standard platform, and avoid investing in developing their own proprietary infrastructure, analysts and IBM officials said. Developers benefit because they can combine a variety of tools into a single suite and complete virtually every step of a development project from a single interface.

“Ultimately what we’ll get is two platforms: The Java one and the Windows one,” said Ted Schadler, a software analyst with Forrester Research Inc. “What happens is [that] more innovation occurs.”

Microsoft Corp.’s Visual Studio .Net software development suite is one of the leading IDEs, and is geared toward developing Windows and .Net applications. It has a broad range of third-party contributors that have released Visual Studio .Net plug-ins.

In the Java programming camp, IBM’s Eclipse project carries on along side a similar effort by Sun Microsystems Inc. Sun has invested in an open source project called NetBeans, and has built its Sun ONE (Open Network Environment) Studio tool suit based on the NetBeans technology.

Sun’s open-source project predates Eclipse, and while it is also aimed at creating a common, open source platform, it is headed on a crash course with IBM’s competing effort, according to at least one analyst. New support for IBM’s project puts the Armonk, N.Y., software maker at an advantage over Sun’s effort, he said.

“The fact that IBM was able to very quickly manoeuvre their mass to encourage participation by other players, that has caused a lot of significant momentum behind Eclipse,” said John Meyer, senior industry analyst at Giga information Group Inc. “They have a full cradle-to-grave suite. Why wouldn’t the other vendors want to jump on board?”

In addition to Sun, Java server software vendor BEA Systems Inc. is notably absent from the Eclipse project. It too is pursuing its own tools strategy. BEA has been working on a tools framework called WebLogic Workshop which also offers a platform with which third-party tools can be integrated.

Meyer said BEA’s development platform lacks the broad industry support that Sun and IBM have assembled. “There are already two IDEs available,” he said, identifying NetBeans and Eclipse. “I don’t think there’s room for any more.”

BEA officials weren’t immediately available for comment.

Contrasting it with Visual Studio .Net, IBM likened Eclipse to other open source efforts gaining steam in the software industry. It claimed that the movement towards a common framework for tools vendors will help contribute to the broader open-source movement as it battles Windows for developers.

“Eclipse is to tools what Linux is to operating systems and Apache is to Web servers,” Hebner said. “This provides application developers a tools environment on an open standards platform and no single company owns or controls the technology.”