Getting Started

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2004-11-15 Print this article Print

The obvious question is why did you not pursue it? Well, I am fundamentally a person who loves building teams that build products. And thats not what the Eclipse role is about. The Eclipse role is about orchestrating and leading collaborative development among multiple companies. And thats a great thing to do; its not what I personally enjoy doing. I like creating teams and building products directly.
How did you originally get the role of facilitator in this whole process?
Let me give you a little bit of background. I was at Rational for 22 years or so. The company was formed in 1981. I joined in 1982 and I was the 10th employee. I was the original VP of development. And over the years, in the year 2000 I was the senior vice president of what we called the product group at Rational, which was responsible for all product development and all marketing. We had made the decision that the Rational suite would ultimately need to be available in two environments. One inside Visual Studio .Net, the Microsoft environment. And we were seeking a second environment that would be platform independent. One that would run on Unix, Linux, Windows and have a consistent look and feel. And ideally be an open industry platform. So we spent some time looking around to see what was available. And we considered the usual suspects, which would be the Borland stuff, Sun NetBeans and a couple of other things. At that time IBM had not gone public with any of its technology in this area, but I had developed with IBM a strategic relationship where IBM was "OEMing" ClearCase, our configuration management tool. So I had met Lee Nackman and Danny Sabbah[ IBM development software managers], and had a pretty good relationship with them and mentioned that we were seeking this platform neutral development shell, within which all the Rational suites could run, that would complement .Net. They mentioned that they had developed a technology inside IBM, which they had called Eclipse. And that they were doing this because they were tired of having all of their development tools: A, be incompatible; and B, require complete reinvention of the same wheel. And they described for me the basics of what Eclipse was. And so they released enough information so that we could take a hard look at it. And when we compared it to everything else that was around it was by far superior. And IBM allowed Rational access to Eclipse. They also mentioned that at some point they might decide to put the technology into open source. That really wasnt a driver for us. It was a nice to have. We were just happy we could use this IBM shell as a standard shell for Rational that would run on all platforms. At some point in 2001 I got a call from either Lee or Danny and they said were going to go ahead and make Eclipse open source, wed like to create a consortium around it and wed like Rational to participate in this. And I immediately agreed and I became Rationals steward or representative to the consortium. So basically Ive been involved personally in Eclipse since before it was Eclipse. Certainly not as early as IBM was, but we were the first non-IBM user of the technology as far as I know and had been involved with it from the beginning. You know that Rational was acquired by IBM. I made it very clear that I would not stay with IBM after the acquisition. I spent 22 years building Rational. IBMs a great company and has great people, but its just too big for me. They asked me to stay on for a year to help with the transition. So within a month I was asked by Lee Nackman and the board of stewards to take a serious look at how to grow Eclipse. So right around that time IBM acquires Rational [February 2003], I make it clear that I am not going to stay, and Eclipse clearly has a scalability problem. And I dont know how they came up with this idea, but I was approached by Lee Nackman at IBM and other members of the board of stewards and the request was for me to build and lead a team that would propose an independent Eclipse consortium whose technical, financial and legal structure would be attractive to the Eclipse member companies. So clearly one of the things that had happened was that IBM had made the fundamental decision to release Eclipse from what had been an IBM-dominated consortium to a vendor-independent consortium. And they and the Eclipse stewards were asking me to lead the effort to figure out how to do that. And they gave me a very specific set of objectives. The objectives they gave me were to evolve Eclipse. What they wanted in this evolution was an independent entity that would continue to support the open source development effort, would encourage the development of an Eclipse ecosystem in the industry, and would provide the mechanisms needed to fund this organization and spreading its cost across the member companies—something that would have legal entity status so it could engage in contracts and accept donations and collect dues and disburse funds and provide formal trademark protection and have an independent counsel that could advise the community on IP and licensing issues and limit the liabilities of the members. So it was basically to support the open source effort, encourage the development of an ecosystem, and provide a management infrastructure. And the way to do that was to create a team within Eclipse that came to be known as the Eclipse Independence Subcommittee that would drive this. And I was to lead that subcommittee. And this became my primary responsibility during my final year with Rational/IBM. And I was able to devote a significant portion of my time to doing that. How did you approach the process of rallying the troops for the transition to an independent entity? The first thing I did was to try and understand and prioritize the issues. And I did that by talking with every member of the consortium and by seeking out users of Eclipse and talking to them and listening. I engaged with several industry analysts to understand their perspectives on Eclipse. And for somebody whod been involved with Eclipse from very early on I was somewhat surprised with what I came up with. Because there were a lot more issues and challenges in Eclipse than I was aware of. And Im going be very direct and tell you what those issues were. The issues as we saw them were that Eclipse had a relatively poor image with commercial end user organizations, in the sense that it wasnt really understood what Eclipse was. It was often mispositioned as a standards organization as opposed to a creator of a platform that many different companies could use. It was well understood by developers, but as one went up the management chain in larger companies the understanding of what Eclipse was would decrease. So it wasnt well understood. There was no articulated vision for Eclipse and there was no credible roadmap for it. That was the second issue. The third issue was Eclipse was widely perceived as divisive. So we had a set of issues: Poor image with end users, no vision or roadmap, Eclipse is perceived as fragmenting Java, there was the friction between the consortium and the open source project that came down to insufficient resources and the fact that all the development was being done by IBM (90 plus percent), organizational scalability. Theres a key characteristic and that was that Eclipse was an ingredient brand. We were not aiming to make Eclipse a product, but rather an ingredient upon which products would be created by multiple companies. And what we wanted was for end users to preferentially seek development tools that were based on Eclipse or that complemented Eclipse. Next Page: Eclipse unfolds.

Darryl K. Taft covers the development tools and developer-related issues beat from his office in Baltimore. He has more than 10 years of experience in the business and is always looking for the next scoop. Taft is a member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) and was named 'one of the most active middleware reporters in the world' by The Middleware Co. He also has his own card in the 'Who's Who in Enterprise Java' deck.

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