Eclipse tools project gains independence

Graphic tag: 04-04-52

The recent move by open source tools project Eclipse to announce independence from its founder, IBM Corp., is something that industry analysts say will benefit both the Java developer community as well as IBM.

“Eclipse has reached a stage of its evolution where it’s important for it to be independent of IBM in order for it to continue to grow,” said John Rymer, analyst at Forrester Research in Santa Clara, Calif.

The problem would be that if IBM continued to control Eclipse, either deliberately or inadvertently, there’s a strong potential that IBM would constrain the natural evolution of the technology through its own strategy with its own product lines, he explained.

But, helping to ensure plug-and-play tools are interoperable with other Java players such as Oracle Corp., SAP AG and Hewlett Packard Co. improves the position of the Java platform overall by attracting more developers and wider vendor base into the project, explains David Senf, analyst at IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto.

Written in the Java language, IBM started Eclipse as a consortium in 2001 with a donation of code worth in excess of US$40 million when it released the Eclipse platform into open source. The software acts as a plug-in based framework that integrates, creates and utilizes software tools and provides developers with a multi-language, multi-platform, multi-vendor environment.

Over the past few years, especially within the Java community, the Eclipse project has gained recognition within the software community.

Eclipse made the announcement that it was reorganizing into a non-for-profit entity at the Eclipsecon conference in Anaheim, Calif. New board members include Hewlett Packard, IBM, Intel Corp. and SAP AG.

Skip McGaughey, the IBM employee who was the executive director of the consortium, said he would step down and help with the transition of Eclipse into an independent organization. He said it’s important that the next executive director not be from IBM.

Right now the organization has support from about 58 companies, but the development of a real corporate structure and being able to strike a balance between both large and small corporations is a central issue, that could also see membership increase, said Eric von der Heyden, managing director of Karlsruhe, Germany-based Innoopract Informationssysteme GmbH. Innoopract joined Eclipse in early 2003.

“The consortium model was working,” von der Heyden said. Now that Eclipse is going to be a major industry player it’s important to have a management structure with member companies.

Jochen Krause, founder and president of Innoopract, says the independence of Eclipse will encourage future acceptance in the development world.

“A lot of people didn’t feel comfortable with only IBM behind Eclipse,” he said, explaining that more companies will be open to join Eclipse because its future direction will be made clear.

Under the new structure, IBM will not be the primary financial contributor any longer. Commercial members will now provide between US$5,000 to US$250,000 in funding per year and will also contribute developer resources to the project, McGaughey said.

The current operating budget calls for US$1.2 billion and to date Eclipse has US$1.5 million already committed.

Until the board of directors and staff is hired, Rymer says it’s hard to predict what will happen next at Eclipse. Ideally, the technology will continue to expand as a common foundation for tool integration, he added.

There will still be several challenges for the new organization to overcome.

Now that so many corporations are on board, Eclipse will need to strike a balance between the open source mentality – where code is contributed freely from programmers, Rymer said.

Also, weaning Eclipse from the technical influence of IBM and allowing other firms to gain influence, as well as finding a common ground with Sun Microsystems Inc., are other issues that need to be addressed, he added.

“If [Eclipse] is going to provide Java development technology, the least they have to do is support Java standards,” he said.

Sun has yet to join Eclipse. The company toyed with the idea last year, but said it was unable to reach agreeable terms with the Eclipse board.

McGaughey says that Sun is welcome to join Eclipse.

“The platform continues to remain stable and robust,” he says. “We have evolved the organizational structures and we have stabilized the technology base.”

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