Eclipse on the Wean: Seeking Less IBM, More of Other Members

The Eclipse Foundation is at a crossroads, having to deal with rapid growth, weaning itself off the IBM support system and the departure of a key figure.

SANTA CLARA, Calif.—The Eclipse Foundation is enduring the pains of trying to balance its rapid growth against its dependence on IBM for the core expertise the open-source development platform requires.

At issue is the organizations need to wean itself off the IBM support system and garner more support from its other members, particularly Eclipse Strategic Developer members.

IBM founded the Eclipse Consortium in late 2001 and later spun it out as an independent entity known as the Eclipse Foundation in 2004. And despite the organization being a broad-based entity made up of more than 115 members, IBM employees have continued to make up the lions share of the organizations developers on the core platform initiative.

Indeed, as some in the industry have knocked Sun Microsystems for its heavy representation and influence over the JCP (Java Community Process), others have criticized Eclipse as being too IBM-centric.

Mike Milinkovich, executive director of Eclipse, in an interview with eWEEK, said he has moved to eliminate this.

However, some observers as well as Eclipse members expressed concern about how the foundation might manage its transition away from being so IBM-heavy.

One source said he is concerned that while IBM is moving to take some of its staff off the Eclipse Platform Project, the foundation is asking strategic developers to add bodies of their own to the project—bodies that take away from development on other projects.

And a source who requested anonymity joked that, in perhaps the most cynical view of the situation, one might assume "IBM used Eclipse to run its competitors out of the market and now its on to the next thing."

Yet, said Milinkovich, "I wouldnt characterize it as something that IBM is insisting on. I started this process because Im not satisfied that we have sufficient diversity on the Eclipse Platform Project. That is an additional burden for IBM because theyre currently staffing pretty much all of it, or at least 80 percent of it if I were to do the headcount. And thats a risk for Eclipse."

/zimages/4/28571.gifOracle is appointed a board member and Strategic Developer of the Eclipse Foundation. Click here to read more.

Moreover, Milinkovich said, "what we are actually working toward is figuring out how to get more non-IBM investment in the platform. And IBM is interested in seeing this happen, the Eclipse Foundation is interested in seeing this happen, and there are quite a few community members and strategic members interested in seeing this happen. But its hard."

Milinkovich said he believes the process of making Eclipse less dependent on IBM will "literally take a couple of years. It took a couple of years to get to the point where we realized we actually had to do something."

In addition, Milinkovich said that not only has the core of the Eclipse Platform development team "been together for the five years that Eclipse has been out in open source, theyve also been together for the two years before Eclipse became open source. Theres a lot of history there. And pound for pound, I think its one of the best software engineering teams on the planet. … So you have to find people that are very good and very committed. And you have to put them in a milieu where they have a lot to learn."

The foundation is currently having a number of conversations about how it will go about spreading the development responsibility, "but no decisions have been made; were exploring different things."

Right now, Eclipse requires its Strategic Developer members to contribute eight developers to a project. But Milinkovich said he does not believe the foundation will increase that requirement.

And as the Eclipse Foundation deals with its success among ISVs (independent software vendors), it also is looking to garner more support, if not membership, from large end-user companies and organizations, rather than strictly from the vendor community, Milinkovich said.

At the EclipseCon conference here, the foundation sponsored a birds-of-a-feather session called Blue Sky about whether and when the groups should start an Eclipse 4.0 effort. The Eclipse project is now on Version 3.2.

In addition to reaching the crossroads of having to deal with weaning itself off the IBM support pipeline, the Eclipse organization has to deal with the departure of its founding chairperson and longtime supporter and adviser, Skip McGaughey.

McGaughey, a former IBM employee who became the founding chairman of the Eclipse Consortium, announced that he will be retiring this spring.

Some said McGaughey was the heart and soul of the organization.

"You cannot replace a Skip," Milinkovich said. "What Im trying to do right now is Ive brought somebody on board who is a professional accountant who has a lot of administration experience, and hes going to take a much larger chunk of that part of what I do. And Im going to take on more of the team building and raising Eclipse awareness."

Milinkovich said he owes his presence at Eclipse to McGaughey.

"I wouldnt be here without Skip, and Eclipse itself would not be here without Skip," Milinkovich said. "The whole idea of building an open-source community that had the explicit goal of fostering a commercial ecosystem around it, that is Skips idea.

"Without Skip, Eclipse would be a much more ordinary open-source community," he said. "Hes the guy who came up with the ideas behind most of the things that are unique about Eclipse."

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