Eclipses Growth Overshadows Its Early IBM Days

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2004-11-15

Eclipses Growth Overshadows Its Early IBM Days

Eclipses are rare events, but rarer still has been the growth experienced by the Eclipse open-source development platform in recent months.

As the Java-based framework approaches its third anniversary next week and the organization nears its first year of independence, the platform has momentum that it might not have realized as the IBM-dominated entity it once was.

Having kick-started the project in 2001, IBM last February, along with members of the community that grew up around. Eclipse, launched the Eclipse Foundation, an independent, nonprofit organization designed to broaden the platform and the developer community.

Click here to read where the Eclipse platform was one year ago.

By all accounts, the move has been successful. In the past six months, since naming Mike Milinkovich executive director, the foundation has increased its membership by 30 percent and started nine open-source projects. Furthermore, more than 18 companies have included the Eclipse platform and IDE (integrated development environment) in their products.

The foundation has also broadened the reach of Eclipse beyond programmers and engineers to "power users and business reporting" types, said Skip McGaughey, the Eclipse Foundations director of ecosystems, in Asheville, N.C.

The business reporting focus comes from the BIRT (Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools) Project, which Eclipse started when Actuate Corp., of South San Francisco, Calif., became a member in August. BIRT is the first top-level Eclipse project for the development of applications that include BI and enterprise reporting, McGaughey said.

BIRT is expected to deliver an open-source BI and reporting platform by early next year.

"The biggest change I see in the new Eclipse is a more business-oriented focus as member companies are working to make money from their Eclipse-based products," said Ted Farrell, architect and director of the Strategy Application Development Tools Division at Oracle Corp., of Redwood Shores, Calif. "The new Eclipse projects are much more business-focused and expand from the traditional developer focus Eclipse was founded upon."

In June, the foundation released its biggest project to date, the Eclipse 3.0 platform. "Were moving Eclipse from an open platform for tools integration to a universal platform for application integration," Milinkovich said.

Click here to read eWEEKs interview with Mike Milinkovich.

For all Eclipses success, its transition to an independent organization took some time, in large part because of the investment by IBM in 2001. At the time, IBM donated $40 million worth of code to the open-source effort to start Eclipse.

Dave Bernstein, former senior vice president of product development at Rational Software Corp., took on the role of managing Eclipses transition in what some referred to as a consulting role. He had stayed on with IBM following its acquisition of Rational in February 2003 just long enough to see the Eclipse transition go through in February of this year, he said.

Bernstein was responsible for assigning executive director candidates to the Eclipse board, he said. "First and foremost, we needed an executive director who could inspire and attract the members of the consortium who were going to collaboratively develop the parts of Eclipse."

Next Page: Image problems.

Image Problems

But the team ran into issues around the image of Eclipse in the community. "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," Bernstein said. "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. There was no articulated vision for Eclipse, and there was no credible road map for it."

By May 2003, Bernstein had a series of next steps to present to the board, including developing a business plan; preparing for the recruitment of members; converting the IBM CPL (Common Public License), which Eclipse was using, to a formal EPL (Eclipse Public License); preparing bylaws and a membership agreement; and creating an independent entity.

Click here to read eWEEKs interview with Dave Bernstein.

Yet, while IBM no longer dominates the Eclipse Foundation, the organizations failure to reel in two other Java heavyweights—Sun Microsystems Inc. and BEA Systems Inc.—has not gone unnoticed. BEA is, however, working indirectly with Eclipse on a project called Pollinate. The goal of Pollinate is to build an Eclipse-based IDE and tool set that leverages the open-source Apache Beehive application framework. Beehive is based on BEAs WebLogic Workshop.

The Eclipse leadership is excited about the groups future, but no more so than the developer community that has built up around it.

"Simply stated, we now have the very best open-source movement that has a predictable, business-driven, tested and open environment," said Howard Lewis, former president and CEO, and current board member of SlickEdit Inc., in Morrisville, N.C. "All are free to contribute based on their creditable capabilities. There is no longer an IBM stigma. Whether good or bad, its just not there. Having met the new foundation team in Dallas, Im hopeful—well, actually—delighted. Its great to work with such talented, driven people who have a vision with substance, energy and commitment. We have a ton of work in front of us, but it will be fun and worthwhile—of that I am sure."

Todd Williams, vice president of technology at Genuitec LLC, in Plano, Texas, said: "Im constantly surprised at the rate of adoption of Eclipse into both new horizontal and new vertical markets. Horizontally, I think youll soon see development tools for almost every computational platform based on Eclipse. Vertically, I think well begin to see external industry consortia build interoperable tooling, unique to the standards in their vertical, on Eclipse as well. Given those avenues of growth, Id say the movement to Eclipse is only just beginning."

Indeed, future directions for the Eclipse Foundation include developing tools and support for plug-ins to assist developers in constructing applications for industry vertical segments; worldwide marketplaces; and systems that extend beyond the traditional IT world, such as embedded systems, sources said.

Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis in programming environments and developer tools.

Rocket Fuel