Eclipse Foundation: 10 Years Down, Many More to Come

By Darryl K. Taft  |  Posted 2014-02-04

Eclipse Foundation: 10 Years Down, Many More to Come

The Eclipse Foundation celebrated its 10th anniversary this week, moving from a consortium of companies championing a Java integrated development environment (IDE) to a multi-faceted organization that continues to set the tone for open-source software development with competing corporate entities providing governance.

Originally created as a consortium when IBM released the Eclipse Platform into open source in 2001, the Eclipse Foundation was formed as an independent, not-for-profit and vendor-neutral organization and announced on Feb. 2, 2004. Since that time, the Eclipse Foundation has grown from 19 projects and 50 members to 247 projects and 205 members, said Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation.

Eclipse's collaborative governance model has led to the creation of a number of collaborative working groups in industries and technologies such as aerospace, automotive, geospatial and the Internet of things (IoT).

“This is a major milestone for the Eclipse community,” Milinkovich told eWEEK. “We’re pretty proud of what we’ve done as an independent foundation.”

Eclipse originally focused on providing an extensible platform for building desktop software development tools. However, the Eclipse community has grown to cover a wide range of technologies, including rich client platforms, modeling, Web-based development tools, Java server runtimes, and frameworks, protocols and tools for the Internet of things.

“I would say that the formation of the original Eclipse Consortium was a watershed event in the arena of software technology,” said Mike Taylor, president and CEO of Instantiations, a founding member of Eclipse. “It led directly to the formation of the Eclipse Foundation, which may be one of the most successful and high impact open-source software efforts in history. Millions and millions of people and companies have based their software development and applications on Eclipse. For this community to have hung together and created such stunningly effective software for so many years is the real tribute to the technology. It hasn’t always been a smooth ride, people and companies sometimes tend to bicker and/or push their own agendas. However, the Eclipse technology base has transcended all that.”

Eclipse substantially changed the Java IDE and software development tools industry, becoming the dominant Java IDE and application lifecycle management (ALM) tool platform for software developers. In addition to its Java dominance, Eclipse has become the de facto standard for C and C++ IDEs in the embedded and silicon vendor industry.

“In 10 years, Eclipse has gone from what the site once called ‘an IDE for everything and nothing in particular’ to what one might now call ‘an extensible framework for everything and nothing in particular,’” said Todd Williams, vice president of technology and co-founder of Genuitec, a founding member of Eclipse. “That might seem like a small change in wording, but the impact is immense. I think the first seminal turning point for the technology at Eclipse was the realization that Eclipse could be used for more than IDEs, an idea which became the Rich Client Platform project. This gave Eclipse a lot of breadth in the desktop software market, well past the original target of IDEs.”

Milinkovich said starting in 2006, Eclipse was the first open-source organization that has demonstrated the ability to ship annual releases on time to the day each and every year for the past 10 years.

In addition, Eclipse was the first open-source organization to demonstrate that market competitors such as IBM, BEA, Borland, Sybase, Oracle, SAP, Google, and others could collaborate successfully in governing an open-source community, Milinkovich said.

“We demonstrated that you can have large companies and many direct competitors in the governance of a community, and we set the bar for IP [intellectual property] management in an open-source organization,” he said.

Eclipse has established a set of best practices for open-source IP management that has led to pervasive use of Eclipse open-source technology in commercial products. Eclipse has scanned more than 2,000 third-party, open-source libraries to assure their IP cleanliness.

Eclipse Foundation: 10 Years Down, Many More to Come

"Having begun its life as a bold experiment in corporate open-source contribution, the Eclipse Foundation has over the past decade evolved from a focused Java development project to a diverse community supporting a wide array of languages and needs," said Stephen O'Grady, principal analyst at RedMonk, in a statement. "From browser-based development to the Internet of things, Eclipse is always willing to rethink its role and adapt itself to the fast changing industry around it."

Williams said Eclipse set itself up to fundamentally change the way development was done when the concept of the OSGi runtime was adopted and a reference implementation was completed in the Equinox project.

Indeed, Williams said the Rich Client Platform project and the Equinox project were “two inflection points that have allowed Eclipse to permeate just about anywhere that software can go, from the desktop to the server to the cloud to mobile to the Internet of things. At this point, it's looking quite analogous to TCP/IP in that its many layers are used as the base of lots of very interesting things, but often in a completely invisible manner to most of us.”

Milinkovich joined Eclipse as the founding executive director of the organization. He told eWEEK he had very little prior experience in the open-source community, but he was very interested in how open source would impact the software industry.

“I love the job I do and I think I’m ruined for working at a software company after doing this for so long,” he said. “This job changes your perspective on how software gets built and what motivates developers to adopt technology.”

Asked about the change Microsoft is undertaking with new leadership and its approach to open-source software, Milinkovich said, “someday Microsoft will understand they have to truly adopt open source and when they do I hope they do it at Eclipse. The open-source competitors to what they’re doing are eating their lunch.”

Moreover, "all of us who are part of the Eclipse community are very proud of what we have built, and look forward to even more successes in the future," Milinkovich said in a statement. “The Eclipse community is growing quickly in exciting new areas such as Web-based development with Orion, tools for safety-critical software engineering, geospatial technologies and protocols, frameworks and tools for the Internet of things. The breadth of technology being worked on at Eclipse is breathtaking."

Milinkovich said the foundation’s recent focus on IoT has even turned into a hobby for him where he has purchased Raspberry Pi and Arduino units and has been building apps and experimenting with the technology. He said the direction the foundation is going with IoT, PolarSys toolchains for embedded systems and Orion tooling for cloud development represents a rich future for the organization.

Meanwhile, Mik Kersten, CEO of Tasktop Technologies and creator of the popular Eclipse Mylyn project, praised Eclipse for its success in benefiting enterprise software developers, but he says the foundation now needs to do more.

"Over the past decade, several open-source tools have transformed the productivity of developers,” Kersten said. “JUnit changed the way we test. Subversion, then Git, changed how we manage code. More recently Jenkins, Sonar, Puppet and Chef have transformed the way that we build and deploy. What Eclipse has done is to put all those tools at the finger tips of developers by connecting each in a unified, open and integrated desktop experience. This completely transformed the productivity of Java developers, and continues to do so.

"However, whereas its growth and success in the enterprise continues, Eclipse has had less traction with the new breed of JavaScript developers, who have been relegated to the 1990s world of constantly searching across countless disconnected text editors. As JavaScript tools and frameworks mature, one thing I'm sure of is that the future of mobile and Web development is going to be more like the world of Eclipse than the kludged together command line environments than many have had to fall back to. The question is, how do we get from here to there?"

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