Industry Reacts to Sun Eclipse Letter

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2004-01-31

Industry Reacts to Sun Eclipse Letter

As the followers of the open-source Java movement head to Anaheim, Calif., for this weeks inaugural EclipseCon conference, Sun Microsystems Inc. on Friday gave the Eclipse open-source organization and IBM Corp. something to think about.

Sun ran an open letter to the Eclipse Consortium on its Web site Friday, after sending a "courtesy copy" of the letter to Eclipse members the night before. In its letter, Sun laid out why it has not joined and, unless things change, will not join the Eclipse organization.

"The required mandatory transition to the Eclipse platform would inhibit development of innovative technologies like the Sun Java Studio Creator product (code-named Project Rave), and require a reconstruction of all of our existing tools," Sun said in its letter. "Any entry criteria requiring that Sun abandon the NetBeans open source platform directly conflicts with the concept of choice and diversity, the very bases that gave Eclipse its beginning. If this condition were to change, we would be happy to reconsider."

Earlier this month, James Gosling, a Sun fellow and vice president of the company, told reporters during a press call that Sun was still considering joining Eclipse and that talks were ongoing. This was despite the companys official decline in December.

Click here to read more about the recent Sun and Eclipse discussions.

Some in the community said the letter could be viewed an extension of the mating dance Sun and the IBM-dominated Eclipse board have engaged in over the past several months; other insiders thought a better analogy might be Sun coming out into the light to stand up to a bigger, stronger kid on the block that has borrowed and not returned a prized possession. And the two are circling one another trying to come to terms on how both might benefit from it.

Dave Bernstein, a former senior vice president and general manager of products for Rational Software Corp., worked as a consultant to the Eclipse Consortium after IBM acquired Rational and the Eclipse Consortium began to develop plans to spin off to form the new independent Eclipse Foundation. Bernstein led the committee that defined the new organization and spearheaded negotiations between Sun and Eclipse.

"I take Rich Greens [vice president of Sun developer tools and Java software] letter at face value," Bernstein said. "If Richs impression that Sun must abandon NetBeans in order to join Eclipse is the only remaining impediment, then thats good news because there is no such requirement. I hope that Rich will engage with the Eclipse Foundation Board of Directors and agree to join as a Strategic Developer."

Bernstein added: "A key objective in creating the independent Eclipse Foundation was to evolve from a loose federation around IBM-driven development to a vendor-neutral non-profit corporation driving collaborative development among multiple industry leaders and open source projects. Launching the Eclipse Foundation is a very big step forward, but theres much more to be accomplished. I have no problem with Sun pointing out pitfalls and/or offering guidance based on their own experience."

Skip McGaughey, chairman of the Eclipse Consortium, said: "I thought Sun did a good job of articulating the big picture; I thought it was very fair." However, McGaughey continued that Sun had several options open to it. "But its important for Sun and everybody to understand is there are companies who have joined Eclipse at a number of levels. Sun could join as an add-in provider or as a strategic partner and be on the board. All of these options are open to Sun," he said.

Mike Taylor, president and chief executive of Instantiations Inc. of Portland, Ore., said of Suns letter that the move was a positive development. "At a minimum it means Sun is taking Eclipse seriously," he said.

In addition, the head of a major Java user organization was pragmatic about the situation that involves two Java heavyweights.

Rick Ross, president of JavaLobby Inc., Cary, N.C., said, "A letter like Suns affirms the importance of the Eclipse Foundation and the strength of their achievements so far."

"[However,] its suggestion that abandoning NetBeans was mandatory is silly, and Dave Bernsteins reply was gentle in pointing out that this was not the sticking point. Does Borland, an Eclipse member, have to abandon JBuilder? Clearly not."

Borland extended JBuilder environment to the Mac OS X platform. Click here to read a review.

John Rymer, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., said he sees both angles. "I read the letter and found it to be a restatement of the arguments Sun made when deciding not to join Eclipse back in December."

"I strongly agree with Suns contention that diversity has both a positive and negative side," Rymer continued. "Choice is the positive side; fragmentation is the negative side. Application development is far too fertile an area to limit diversity."

Next Page: Java Community Digs Open Dialog.

Java Community Digs Open


Instantiations Taylor said the new independent Eclipse organization and "the whole Java community will support this kind of open dialogue in the interest of making Java the preeminent development platform in the world."

Indeed, Suns letter points to this position, as Sun, IBM, BEA Systems Inc., Oracle Corp. and others realize that their primary competition, collectively, is Microsoft and its .Net platform.

"First and foremost, the main goal for all of us in the Java development community is to achieve the strongest possible technology and market position for the Java platform," Suns letter said. "The Big Picture is a Java technology solution that ensures no lock in to a given platform, one that generates competitive markets and technologies, and one based on standards. That way developers, deployers and consumers continue to have choice and benefit from technological diversity."

Sun also warned the new Eclipse organization not to "define interoperability on its own terms, but rather work with other major players in the industry to achieve actual interoperability. "Working with the Java Community Process (JCP]) and the Java Tools Community (JTC) would be great entrees into the discussion," it said.

Read more here about the official formation of the Java Tools Community.

However, some Eclipse observers asked how Sun in any fairness could make claims regarding Eclipses impartiality when many view Sun as having its thumb on the Java Community Process scale.

"I dont think fairness is the issue," analyst Rymer said. "The issue is effectiveness. Sun clearly wants Eclipse to align its activities with those of the JCP. I expect that the Java tools activities at Eclipse will do so out of necessity."

"To create competitive Java tools, Eclipse will have to implement relevant JSRs [Java Specification Requests]. Im not as concerned with the new Java tools group because it has no known influence on the market yet," he said.

Click here to read more about JSR 198, the goal to establish a common API for extending Java IDEs.

JavaLobbys Ross added: "I respect but do not envy Sun. Their insistence on control has left them in an increasingly isolated position." "Without IBM, Sun could never have built the success Java has enjoyed. Without Sun, however, the IBM-led Eclipse group has been making great strides. I would certainly prefer to see Sun and IBM renew cooperation in pursuit of what is best for the Java platform and industry," Ross said.

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