Eclipse Turns 10: Tracing the Beginnings to a Little Java IDE

The Eclipse Foundation celebrates its tenth anniversary after starting out with a simple Java IDE and growing into one of the most powerful open-source software organizations around.

The Eclipse Foundation is celebrating a decade of open-source innovation that all started with a simple plan to make Java development easier.

November marks 10 years that the Eclipse Foundation has been in business as a formal organization pushing forth an open-source agenda around the Java-based Eclipse IDE.

In November 2001, the Eclipse IDE and platform were first made available under an open-source software license. IBM made the initial $40 million contribution of technology to start the Eclipse project that has now grown to a technology commons with an estimated value of over $800 million, said Mike Milinkovich, executive director of Eclipse, in an interview with eWEEK. The Eclipse community has also emerged as the leading place for individuals and organizations to collaborate on innovative technology development, Milinkovich said.

The Eclipse community has played a critical role in industrywide software product development. As a founding member in 2001, IBM's initial contribution of $40 million in technology donations yielded thousands of products including more than 800 IBM products based on Eclipse technology. And IBM remains active in the Eclipse community and has representation on several Eclipse committees and delivers 15 percent of the code.

According to Ian Skerrett, vice president of marketing and ecosystem at the Eclipse Foundation, there are 273 open-source projects at; 1,057 committers located around the world, more than half in Europe; 50 million-plus lines of code across all Eclipse projects; and 174 member companies of the Eclipse Foundation.

Eclipse began as a platform for building tools, and its first killer application was the Java IDE. It was so much of a killer that it quickly drove competing Java IDEs from the likes of Borland, Oracle and others out of the market, leaving only JetBrains' IntelliJ IDEA and NetBeans as competition. Still, Eclipse has an estimated 65 percent market share in the Java IDE space and over 6 million users. Since its inception, Eclipse has driven the consolidation of what was once a highly fragmented Java tools market. It has been instrumental in the worldwide success and adoption of Java itself.

"I think it's safe to say that Eclipse has had a massive impact on the industry in the past 10 years-most of it very positive," Mike Taylor, CEO of Instantiations, told eWEEK. "Among other things Eclipse effectively consolidated what had been a wide diversity of Java IDEs from a bunch of different companies-large and small-into a common Java platform that now dominates the industry.

"On the negative side, there was a reduction in diversity-and maybe innovation-among companies that tried to compete on the tools level," he continued. "On the positive side, Eclipse united Java technology into an incredibly powerful and cost-effective platform that users in large and small companies around the world could use to build the software they need. Eclipse effectively moved Java from being a single-source technology from Sun [Microsystems] to an open-source industry initiative. Java was good without Eclipse; with Eclipse, it's excellent."

The Eclipse community has since expanded into many technology areas. For instance, Skerrett said the Eclipse C/C++ IDE (CDT) has become the de facto standard developer IDE in the embedded and real-time operating system market. At least 70 companies are building their developer tool solutions based on CDT, he said.

Moreover, the Eclipse Modeling community has grown to become the largest and most innovative community at Eclipse, Skerrett added. And a majority of Unified Modeling Language (UML) modeling vendors worldwide base their solutions on Eclipse, Skerrett said.

In addition, the Eclipse Mylyn project is now the industry hub for integrating tools across the application lifecycle. There are more than 80 Mylyn connectors that integrate different Application Lifecycle Management (ALM) solutions into the Eclipse developer's desktop.

"The Eclipse Foundation has created a blueprint for open platforms, and is now setting the stage for how to go about bringing the benefits of open-source collaboration into the enterprise," said Mik Kersten, creator of Mylyn and CEO of Tasktop Technologies.

Todd Williams, vice president of technology and co-founder of Genuitec, a founding member of Eclipse, said the Eclipse Foundation launched two key innovations in open-source development that had not existed before the organization came to be.

"That first innovation is the idea of creating a community of companies, rather than individuals, to participate in OSS [open source software] projects under a specific governance model that was based on -mutual self-interest,'" Williams said. "That is, each company participated in only those activities that it felt was aligned with its self-interest, but the net effect was positive progress in a mutually beneficial direction. The second innovation was the creation of a predictable release schedule. This allowed an ecosystem of companies to build their products using Eclipse technologies without risking the predictability of their own release schedules."

Eclipse has indeed proven that open-source projects can be predictable, Milinkovich said. The annual Eclipse Release Train has demonstrated how open-source communities can deliver in a predictable and reliable manner. For the last eight years, Eclipse has shipped a major release at the end of June, on time to the day. The 2011 release train, Indigo, included 62 project teams, 408 developers, 49 organizations and 46 million lines of code.

Moreover, the Eclipse ecosystem has millions of individuals, thousands of companies, and thousands of universities and research institutes that have grown up around the Eclipse industry platform.

"We are incredibly proud of what Eclipse has accomplished over the last 10 years," Milinkovich said in a statement. "The combination of a strong technology platform, a vibrant commercial ecosystem, the right community model and passionate individuals has made Eclipse a worldwide industry success. Moving forward, we see Eclipse as the place for continued industry innovation and collaboration. The next 10 years are going to be just as exciting. Projects like Orion, Xtext, Mylyn, JGit, Virgo will keep Eclipse an exciting place."

"IBM is proud of its 10-year affiliation with the Eclipse Foundation, from founding member to one of the most active advocates of Eclipse-based technology and product development," said Sal Valla, vice president, architecture and technology at IBM. "It is vitally important to encourage and enable open, transparent technology communities based on open standards and open-source collaboration. The committers, Eclipse Foundation, member companies and users have brought not just technical innovation, but organizational and governance innovation as well, all of which will endure."

Milinkovich said Eclipse proved that open source could work as a project for a collection of for-profit companies, many of which were competitors.

"The notion that open source could be a way for companies to work was a novel idea," Milinkovich said. "But Eclipse changed that so that it's no longer novel, but an accepted part of things. The importance we place on intellectual-property management helped support us in that regard."

Also, one of the core principles of Eclipse was the importance of modularity to doing programming in the large, Milinkovich said. And Eclipse developed its own plug-in model based on the Open Services Gateway Initiative (OSGi), which Milinkovich credits as being foundational to the organization.

"Having been there at the outset as one of the first non-IBM committers, I have witnessed three key factors define the success of Eclipse," Kersten said. " First, its highly modular platform left the gate with a critical mass created by IBM and OTI, redefined the IDE landscape with its ability to integrate a broad range of app dev tools, making it easy for vendors to put Eclipse at the core of their tool strategy. Create an extensible platform without sufficiently modular extensibility; you end up with the fragmentation of Android. Limit extensibility as we've seen with iOS, and you'd better have the whole platform right from the outset, or the platform innovation will happen elsewhere, like Android.

"Second, from the start, the Eclipse Foundation put in place the meritocracy and economics that accounted for both the needs of community contributors and for those of corporations. This is what has avoided the distracting wrangling between community and commercial sponsors, as we recently saw with Hudson and Jenkins. Finally, Eclipse put in place an open development process and the open ALM [application lifecycle management] tools to support it," he said.

Kersten added that the birth of Mylyn itself was a natural extension of scaling that process and bridging between Eclipse development and related commercial development being done within the firewall.

Meanwhile, Milinkovich said Eclipse is looking ahead and bringing in new projects, including one that focuses on machine-to-machine connectivity. In fact, IBM and Eurotech have joined up to form a new Eclipse working group around machine-to-machine connectivity, Milinkovich said. In addition, a new open-source industry collaboration, called Polarsys, is being created at the Eclipse Foundation to focus on building and maintaining tools for safety-critical and embedded-system development.

"We're also seeing more and more tools for developers moving from the desktop and onto the server," Milinkovich said.

Personally, Milinkovich said being executive director of Eclipse has been his "dream job" and he's been having fun. "I've always had a career that walked the line between technology and business," he said. "I've been a hard-core developer, and at one point, I was an accountant. This job allows me to walk that line between the two. It's pretty much unlike anything I've ever done before. Having the ability to talk to developers and understand and appreciate what they do and to talk to the business people running the member companies is a skill that's come in handy on this job. That and a lot of patience."

In contrast to the success of Eclipse, Kersten says the industry has witnessed the downfall of organizations that did not get open source quite right, like the Symbian Foundation, and the success of those with a similar model, like Mozilla and Apache. "Over the past decade, Eclipse has refined each of its three pillars and continued to grow its footprint," Kersten said. "With 50-plus million lines of code being built in a coordinated fashion for the upcoming Eclipse Indigo release, we're now seeing organizations look to Eclipse as an example of how to better support their own developers and scale their ALM stacks."

For his part, Williams, who has been there from the start with Eclipse, said 10 years later, it's hard to find a software segment where Eclipse has not made a significant impact as an underlying standard for tooling or runtimes.

"This is a true testament to the power of open-source meritocracy when united under the right governance structure," Williams said. "But now that Eclipse technology has grown to become a ubiquitous standard in so many industries, the challenge for the Eclipse Foundation today is determining how to adapt itself for its next mission, whatever that may be."