Eclipse: Behind the Name

Though Sun originally didn't want to join the Eclipse Foundation because of its name, the group was really looking to eclipse Microsoft, not Sun.

Whats in a name?

Back in 2003, when Sun Microsystems Inc. was considering whether it might join the then soon-to-be-independent Eclipse Foundation, one of the key concerns, aside from technical issues, was the name Eclipse.

Sun said it would not join an organization named Eclipse, and the foundation agreed to change the name. The Santa Clara, Calif., company didnt want to join an organization whose name was perceived as encouraging the demise of Sun, company executives said at the time.

It turned out Sun wasnt the target of the Eclipse moniker, though. In his keynote at the EclipseCon 2005 conference in March, Lee Nackman, chief technology officer and vice president of Design, Construction, and Test Tools at IBMs Rational Software division, said Microsoft Corp. was actually the company IBM wanted to "eclipse" and was the true object of IBMs attention.

"Our target was Microsoft," Nackman said. "Microsoft was clearly the market leader and was on a path to become the dominant tools platform. It was clear thered be competition for developers… So around 1998 we felt, key to the competition around application servers and middleware, we needed to bring developers to Java-based middleware ... IBMs middleware business depended on bringing developers to our Java-based middleware."

In early 2001, he said, IBM "saw continued strengthening of Visual Studio and growth of the Microsoft ecosystem."

/zimages/3/28571.gifSome developers gave Microsoft low marks for its Visual Studio presentation at EclipseCon. Click here to read more.

Moreover, IBM also sought to solve the then-lingering problems of IBMs then-fragmented tools strategy and foster a partner ecosystem of its own, Nackman said.

"We decided to do what it would take to be competitive with Visual Studio on Windows," he said.

So the target then was and now is Microsoft, not Sun, he said.

But the name seems so perfect a knock against Sun. How could it not be? Well, according to a source, some of the early Eclipse originators had a retreat where one of the themes was the universe and many code names emerged involving celestial themes. Eclipse stuck. And while Sun was not necessarily the primary target, "these were really smart people, and I dont think the visualization and competitive implication was lost," a source said.

However, having chosen the name, that battle was not yet over.

"A lot of people said Eclipse was a really bad name," Nackman said. In fact, IBMs lawyers advised against the name because it was already widely used—there was the Mitsubishi Eclipse automobile, Eclipse gum, and a girls soccer team in Illinois named the Eclipse that owned the domain name.

So in November 2001, IBM established an open-source licensing and operations model and bought the name from the soccer team with an offer they couldnt refuse.

"Eclipse had a good ring to it and we liked the idea of eclipsing Visual Studio," Nackman said.

And while that is still but a notion, the Eclipse open-source development environment has gone on to eclipse Suns NetBeans open-source development environment in terms of community support and overall ecosystem, if nothing else.

For its part, Sun said part of its reason for not joining Eclipse was its commitment to keep NetBeans independent.

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