In an about-face that could have a dramatic impact in the Java tools space, Sun Microsystems Inc. has indicated it might be willing to join the IBM-sponsored Eclipse open-source development platform effort—but only if momentum to spin off the effort into an independent organization continues.
Eclipse already seems to be moving from an IBM-led organization to an independent one. The inclusion of Sun in the Eclipse group would be a major move in the Java development space, bringing the two largest Java development organizations together. It would also bolster the Java community against Microsoft Corp.s .Net architecture and Visual Studio .Net development tools.
Rich Green, vice president of Sun developer tools and Java software, in Santa Clara, Calif., made overtures toward the Eclipse effort in an interview with eWEEK last week, saying he favors a standard that open-source development platform developers can access to build Java applications and Web services.
The Eclipse effort was started in 2001 as an alternative to Suns Java-based NetBeans open-source tools platform. The name was chosen to signify an effort to overshadow Suns efforts in the area.
Green, however, said he does not see the two efforts as conflicting and said that with the “hint that Eclipse might be changing their structure and maybe separating from IBM,” Sun would be interested in working with the organization.
Joining Suns new Project Rave developer program with Eclipse would put more developers toward the 10- million-developer goal Sun officials have set for the Java ranks.
Skip McGaughey, chairman of Eclipse and an IBM official on loan to the organization, said the Eclipse board of stewards has been working to transition to an independent organization for the last six months and will probably take another three months before it can completely spin off from its IBM sponsorship.
Once the transition occurs, McGaughey said, he expects Eclipse membership to increase. Speaking on whether independence could affect the groups membership, McGaughey said, “I think so, yes. There are a couple of companies that are industry leaders, such as Sun and BEA [Systems Inc.], that we would like to see join Eclipse.”
McGaughey said that in March of last year, the Eclipse board of stewards voted to invite Sun and BEA into its fold, “and weve been working since then to try to bring them in.”
Part of the transition to an independent organization will include the selection of a board of directors—separate from the board of stewards—to run the organization as a business entity, McGaughey said.
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Green said that although Sun is considering involvement with Eclipse, the company would not be moving its core development platform to Eclipse.
“Just like youre not going to see Oracle [Corp.] or Borland [Software Corp.] [both Eclipse members] substitute out their core for Eclipse. That would take up to 24 months,” Green said.
Todd Williams, an Eclipse user and vice president of technology at Genuitec LLC, a Dallas-based software consulting and development company, said, “I think as more companies join and share the organizations vision of common frameworks that are flexible and extensible, the better it will be for Java development.”
A major point hampering interaction between the camps has been Eclipses support of the Standard Widget Toolkit and NetBeans support of the AWT (Abstract Windowing Toolkit) and Swing as their graphics platforms. The technologies are incompatible.
“Sun believes that Eclipse will hit a wall in terms of performance and compatibility because of distinctions between its NetBeans … approach and Eclipses … approach, but at the moment, Eclipse is the clear leader,” said Stephen OGrady, an analyst with RedMonk LLC, a market research company based in Bath, Maine.
Boston-based analyst Anne Thomas Manes, with Burton Group, of Midvale, Utah, said the real issue is the plug-in model. “Both NetBeans and Eclipse are frameworks; they both provide a basic IDE [integrated development environment], but they dont provide out-of-the-box support for all kinds of specialized tools,” Manes said.
The Java Community Process is working to fix this issue, with Java Specification Request 198, which is defining a standard plug-in API for Java IDEs, she added.
“I think youll see something shaking soon” on the issue of Sun and Eclipse, Green said. “Were interested in working with any and all, including IBM. We are interested in seeing what IBM is doing with Eclipse.”
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