Eclipse Unleashed

Eclipse packs an open-source arsenal.

As the Eclipse open-source tools initiative leaves the cradle of its IBM-led consortium to become an independent, nonprofit corporation, it deserves a second look from those who have previously pooh-poohed its potential. Eclipse creators, partners and users who meet this week at the EclipseCon event are now free to follow any path that enterprise needs and technology opportunities combine to offer. IT buyers will benefit.

Before last months disclosure of the Eclipse Foundation spinoff, scheduled to be formally announced this week, it was easy to perceive Eclipse as merely the extensible development environment of IBMs WebSphere product line. Although it provided an opportunity for independent toolmakers to put their talents to work in complementary ways, so did Microsofts Visual Studio or Borlands JBuilder or any number of other popular and capable frameworks. Eclipse needed to offer a convincing edge, not only in technical capability but also in ideological appeal as an exemplar of the momentum of open standards.

But Eclipse was not universally welcomed, even by those who shared the goal of challenging Microsofts dominance of developer mind share. Two years ago, Sun Microsystems Chief Technology Evangelist Simon Phipps was quoted as calling it "a carbon copy" of Suns NetBeans integration platform and saying IBM was malicious or negligent in excluding Sun—which IBM denied doing. Even the Eclipse name begged the question of who, or what, was meant to be overshadowed, even if IBM personnel asserted that only former proprietary techniques and tools were meant to find themselves in the umbra.

Eclipse quickly gained momentum, though, soon more than doubling NetBeans number of enrolled development partners. Novell, as of late last month, was the newest big name on the Eclipse marquee, committed to using Eclipse as its cross-platform development environment. Eclipse-based products from well-respected independent tool smiths are becoming a common sight on the test benches of eWEEK Labs. Even Sun is warming to the prospect of coexistence or possibly actual membership: Java originator James Gosling sounded a multilateral note last month, hoping that NetBeans will be "one of the winners" in an environment of standardized interfaces for tools. Sources suggest that Sun is prepared to make a major Eclipse commitment if timelines can be resolved.

Software platforms succeed or fail as much because of their tools as because of basic strengths or weaknesses. Microsoft has shown the capability and will to deliver tools that make its platforms, despite acknowledged flaws, focal points of developer effort. Now that Eclipse is out of IBMs shadow, enterprise IT buyers can finally expect to find their open-source efforts supported by a comparable arsenal—but only if they tell toolmakers what they want and what theyre willing to pay.

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