Industry Reacts to Sun Eclipse Letter

In an open letter to the Eclipse community, Sun laid out a series of problems with the criteria for joining the open-source Java organization. NetBeans looks to be the major sticking point.

As the followers of the open-source Java movement head to Anaheim, Calif., for this weeks inaugural EclipseCon conference, Sun Microsystems Inc. on Friday gave the Eclipse open-source organization and IBM Corp. something to think about.

Sun ran an open letter to the Eclipse Consortium on its Web site Friday, after sending a "courtesy copy" of the letter to Eclipse members the night before. In its letter, Sun laid out why it has not joined and, unless things change, will not join the Eclipse organization.

"The required mandatory transition to the Eclipse platform would inhibit development of innovative technologies like the Sun Java Studio Creator product (code-named Project Rave), and require a reconstruction of all of our existing tools," Sun said in its letter. "Any entry criteria requiring that Sun abandon the NetBeans open source platform directly conflicts with the concept of choice and diversity, the very bases that gave Eclipse its beginning. If this condition were to change, we would be happy to reconsider."

Earlier this month, James Gosling, a Sun fellow and vice president of the company, told reporters during a press call that Sun was still considering joining Eclipse and that talks were ongoing. This was despite the companys official decline in December.

/zimages/1/28571.gifClick here to read more about the recent Sun and Eclipse discussions.

Some in the community said the letter could be viewed an extension of the mating dance Sun and the IBM-dominated Eclipse board have engaged in over the past several months; other insiders thought a better analogy might be Sun coming out into the light to stand up to a bigger, stronger kid on the block that has borrowed and not returned a prized possession. And the two are circling one another trying to come to terms on how both might benefit from it.

Dave Bernstein, a former senior vice president and general manager of products for Rational Software Corp., worked as a consultant to the Eclipse Consortium after IBM acquired Rational and the Eclipse Consortium began to develop plans to spin off to form the new independent Eclipse Foundation. Bernstein led the committee that defined the new organization and spearheaded negotiations between Sun and Eclipse.

"I take Rich Greens [vice president of Sun developer tools and Java software] letter at face value," Bernstein said. "If Richs impression that Sun must abandon NetBeans in order to join Eclipse is the only remaining impediment, then thats good news because there is no such requirement. I hope that Rich will engage with the Eclipse Foundation Board of Directors and agree to join as a Strategic Developer."

Bernstein added: "A key objective in creating the independent Eclipse Foundation was to evolve from a loose federation around IBM-driven development to a vendor-neutral non-profit corporation driving collaborative development among multiple industry leaders and open source projects. Launching the Eclipse Foundation is a very big step forward, but theres much more to be accomplished. I have no problem with Sun pointing out pitfalls and/or offering guidance based on their own experience."

Skip McGaughey, chairman of the Eclipse Consortium, said: "I thought Sun did a good job of articulating the big picture; I thought it was very fair." However, McGaughey continued that Sun had several options open to it. "But its important for Sun and everybody to understand is there are companies who have joined Eclipse at a number of levels. Sun could join as an add-in provider or as a strategic partner and be on the board. All of these options are open to Sun," he said.

Mike Taylor, president and chief executive of Instantiations Inc. of Portland, Ore., said of Suns letter that the move was a positive development. "At a minimum it means Sun is taking Eclipse seriously," he said.

In addition, the head of a major Java user organization was pragmatic about the situation that involves two Java heavyweights.

Rick Ross, president of JavaLobby Inc., Cary, N.C., said, "A letter like Suns affirms the importance of the Eclipse Foundation and the strength of their achievements so far."

"[However,] its suggestion that abandoning NetBeans was mandatory is silly, and Dave Bernsteins reply was gentle in pointing out that this was not the sticking point. Does Borland, an Eclipse member, have to abandon JBuilder? Clearly not."

/zimages/1/28571.gifBorland extended JBuilder environment to the Mac OS X platform. Click here to read a review.

John Rymer, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., said he sees both angles. "I read the letter and found it to be a restatement of the arguments Sun made when deciding not to join Eclipse back in December."

"I strongly agree with Suns contention that diversity has both a positive and negative side," Rymer continued. "Choice is the positive side; fragmentation is the negative side. Application development is far too fertile an area to limit diversity."

Next Page: Java Community Digs Open Dialog.