Is the Eclipse Foundation a true open-source community or simply a trade association?
That’s the issue a former Eclipse Foundation bigwig raised recently before being slapped down by Eclipse Foundation Executive Director Mike Milinkovich.
In a post titled, “It’s a Trade Association,” Bjorn Freeman-Benson, former Eclipse Foundation committer community director and mainstay at industry events representing the foundation, criticized the foundation for not doing enough to “provide the leadership and resources to maintain the core” Eclipse technology.
““So it looks like I’ve been wrong all along: I’ve been believing and promoting that the Eclipse Foundation is a new combination of open source and commercial interests. But I’ve recently been forced to conclude that I was wrong and that the Foundation is just an industry trade association.”“
Further, Freeman-Benson said it is “OK that the Foundation is an industry trade association, but it means that the open source side of Eclipse must stop wishing for the Foundation to solve the Tragedy of the Commons and must find a way to do it ourselves. The Foundation can continue to provide benefits to the corporate members, that’s fine-I’ve always been pro-profit.”
There is an element of truth at the core of Freeman-Benson’s argument in that the foundation’s actions do in many ways reflect those of a trade association. But, then, it is what it is. The foundation is a clear example of what JBoss founder Marc Fleury used to call “professional open source” at work-where profit-seeking companies apply open-source technology to making money. Gotta make that money. This is a capitalistic society after all.
But then Freeman-Benson oversteps a bit in challenging the Eclipse Foundation “leadership.” Said Freeman-Benson:
““But if the Foundation is not going to provide the leadership and resources to maintain the core, how can we do it ourselves? What are the mechanisms and rewards we need to put in place? One thing that a number of people have concluded is that we need a repository that is not constrained by the IP process. That should be easy to do (google code or github). What else?”“
That prompted a strong and swift response from Milinkovich in a post that lights Freeman-Benson up. Milinkovich, who at one time viewed Freeman-Benson as a valued ally, apparently now views him as a “steady acid drip of negativity” that should just “go away.” Said Milinkovich in his post:
““Your former colleagues at the Eclipse Foundation have tolerated your public abuse quietly because we are professionals, and we honestly thought that you would tire of it. Apparently we were wrong. But the time has come to say it: You are a jerk. Please go away. You quit the Foundation, you have zero commits since April, and we tire of your sniping from afar.”It is no secret that the Eclipse Foundation is a 501(c) 6 and is supported financially by members. But to say that the Foundation does not care deeply about the open source community is a pure fabrication. It attacks the personal and professional reputations of all of us who work hard at the Foundation for the entire community.”“
Meanwhile, commenting in response to Freeman-Benson’s post, Doug Schaefer, project lead on the Eclipse CDT Project and a Wind River software engineer, said, “There are already a number of projects out there that aren’t at Eclipse.org due to the IP process and the non-open culture. It indeed would be interesting to fork the rest of it. Throw it in git and have the Eclipse members bring in what they consider safe as they need it.”
Tragedy of the Commons Problem
However, Schaefer followed that comment with a caveat: “Of course my idea is highly hypothetical and would be contingent on IBM already reaching an involvement level of zero, or near zero where it wouldn’t matter.”
Yet, the issue of IBM, the provider of the core Eclipse technology and the foundation’s biggest benefactor, pulling out is central to Freeman-Benson’s argument.
Freeman-Benson told eWEEK: “My primary issue with the Eclipse Foundation is that it is not working to solve the Tragedy of the Commons problem. IBM is removing resources from the core, and nobody is stepping up. I believe there are a number of simple process changes that could greatly increase the community participation in the maintenance and innovation of the core. I was hoping that the foundation would see fit to make those changes, but I have-as of two weeks ago-decided that the foundation is never going to do them, so I’ve been working on an extra-foundation way to do that. Nothing major and with the whole goal of enabling a larger participation in the core. It’s based around my IP Burden post and my belief that an easy build system is needed and the fact that most community contributors only stick around for a few months.“
However, “after being slammed so viciously by Mike, I’m questioning whether I really care enough to take that kind of bullying,” Freeman-Benson told eWEEK. He also submitted an apology of sorts in a post subsequent to Milinkovich’s.
Meanwhile, Mik Kersten, project lead of the Eclipse Mylyn Project and CEO of Tasktop Technologies, told eWEEK:
““One of the unique things about Eclipse is that it employs a vendor-neutral open-source business model. That makes it different than other successful open-source business models, such as SpringSource’s. Both the community and business rules of engagement around the vendor-neutral model are evolving. Mike Milinkovich created the business landscape and technical road map that has made Eclipse such a success. Bjorn drove fundamental changes to the Eclipse development process, release train and community channels. His question of whether Eclipse functions like a trade association is an interesting academic point, and could help refine our understanding and implementation of the social rules that support individual and vendor collaboration in the Eclipse ecosystem. The implementation of social rules is just as important to open-source communities as it is to social networks like Facebook and LinkedIn. It needs both Bjorns and Mikes to continue to evolve.”“
In a blog post of his own, Kersten notes that both Milinkovich and Freeman-Benson have contributed significantly to Eclipse. Kersten said:
““Mike’s leadership is astounding in its steady navigation and coordination of the Eclipse membership and ecosystem. Bjorn’s contributions have been remarkable as well. I was one of the first non-IBM committers and then committer representative on the Eclipse board, and have watched as Bjorn’s five years of service drove each of the most fundamental changes to the Eclipse development process, release coordination, and community channels including EclipseCon. Having collaborated with both Bjorn and Mike throughout most of this decade has given me an appreciation on how different their perspectives are.”“
Meanwhile, also in his post, Milinkovich gave an update on some of the new efforts the Eclipse Foundation is pushing:
““Since you left, the team has made great strides in pulling together a number of wonderful, committer-oriented programs for 2010. Included amongst the items already committed to the Board is a branded Eclipse forge hosted elsewhere (e.g. IP Policy free), Git support for the whole community and major improvements in hosted build and test at eclipse.org.” “