Who Will Step Up for Eclipse?

Opinion: IBM is the largest contributor to the Eclipse Foundation, but what will happen if Big Blue decides to pull back?

Microsoft made quite a splash with its pledge to work with the Eclipse Foundation during EclipseCon the week of March 17. But who's going to pick up the slack if or when IBM begins to pull back on its abundant support for Eclipse?

IBM created Eclipse and remains its single largest corporate committer, with the most developers committed to the organization and the most developers committing the largest amount of code to the various projects.

In an interview with eWEEK at the show, Mike Milinkovich, executive director of Eclipse, warily raised the issue of IBM's continued commitment to the organization, indicating both he and IBM are expecting to see other members assume larger roles in the Eclipse world.

Microsoft's overtures to support the Standard Widget Toolkit and the Higgins identity management projects loom large in the broad industry scheme. In addition, the Sun Microsystems-led Java Community Process selecting the EclipseLink project as the reference implementation of a Java Specification Request even stood out amongst other news. EclipseLink is based on Oracle technology, but neither Microsoft, which is far from even becoming a member of Eclipse, nor Oracle is ready to step in and take up enough slack to let IBM pull back.

The question is, can IBM even afford to withdraw any of its widespread commitment to Eclipse?

"There are literally hundreds of IBM products that depend on Eclipse," said an IBM official in a private conversation. So IBM cannot simply pull back, but the company would like to see more "diversity" in terms of committers.

One source maintains that IBM is content with maintaining its level of commitment on existing projects, but is not looking to commit any hordes of developers to new ones.

The Eclipse Platform project, one of the organization's most integral projects, is dominated by IBM developers as it comes from the initial IBM-devised idea for Eclipse and provides the fundamental building blocks for everything Eclipse. However, as Eclipse begins work on a major overhaul of the platform - to be known as Eclipse 4.0 or e4 - that effort could help to open up the platform, as e4 will include efforts to better Web- and service-enable the platform. This calls for support from other projects, such as developers from the Rich Ajax Platform project.

Yet, as one source said, "At Eclipse, the guys committing the code have the power, and the companies with those guys are the ones with the most power."

In an interview with eWEEK, Vijay Ramakrishnan, director of strategic marketing at Actuate and an evangelist for the Actuate-led Business Intelligence and reporting Tools project, said Actuate is the third largest committer of code to Eclipse. Asked if Actuate planned to take a broader role beyond BIRT, Ramakrishnan said Actuate is primarily interested in only that project.

Meanwhile, Eclipse officials said Oracle is the second-largest committer of code to the organization.

An Oracle white paper said that the company's "tools vision is -productivity with choice.' This means making application development for the Oracle platform as easy as possible regardless of what toolset developers employ. That's why Oracle chose to join the Eclipse Foundation as a strategic developer and board member, and to contribute world-class talent to lead a variety of Eclipse projects and address its customers' needs."

Meanwhile, acquisitions in the software industry also could have an impact on Eclipse. Oracle's pending purchase of BEA Systems means a large chunk of annual fees lost from the Eclipse coffers. BEA is a strategic developer member, a membership category that must contribute annual dues of up to $250,000. Meanwhile, in November IBM acquired Cognos, which also was an Eclipse member.

Yet new companies continue to join the Eclipse Foundation to make up for any losses due to acquisition, Milinkovich said. Among the new stars or up-and-comers in the organization is SpringSource, which introduced a new tool set at EclipseCon.

As noted, it's not very likely IBM will make any kind of serious withdrawal from Eclipse - it's about as likely as Bush withdrawing troops from Iraq - but it's something to think about as the organization continues to mature.