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Changes Ahead as Eclipse Turns Two

The unexpected growth and popularity of software tools group Eclipse is leading to changes in the way the open-source consortium is organized.

Two years after IBM established Eclipse with $40 million in Java-based software, the once loosely-organized group has decided to install a board of directors to govern three councils, including one for architecture, requirements and planning. This is akin to the way large standards bodies such as the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) or OASIS are organized today.

IBM, as well as co-founders Borland , MERANT , QNX Software Systems, Red Hat and SuSE Linux, have built Eclipse into a worthy competitor to developer communities like the Microsoft Developer's Network and Sun's NetBeans. The organization's developers make an open-source software tool platform that works on both the Linux kernel and Microsoft Windows operating systems, as well as the two Web services frameworks -- J2EE and .NET .

This week, the organization celebrated its two-year anniversary, boasting more than 18 million download requests and 49 member companies.

Eclipse chairperson Skip McGaughey said Eclipse will continue to preserve and protect its open source environment, but will add a little more structure to the mix, including a separate organization to help promote the commercialization of products from companies using Eclipse software development tools.

This group will operate independent of the open-source part to Eclipse and McGaughey stressed that the soon-to-be-named board of directors, which will include a representative from the group's largest investor IBM, will ensure that the open-source rules of engagement are maintained. While this might not always be to the liking of a company that wishes to keep its technology close to its vest, McGaughey said Eclipse will not compromise the openness with which Eclipse has always been governed.

"The non-profit part of Eclipse will not be held hostage by the companies," he said in a recent interview, noting that the swelling size of Eclipse has made the structure a necessary action. "Our job is to preserve and grow it."

The private, not-for-profit faction will be overseen by an executive director to be named next month, as well a board. The commercial faction will be run by companies bearing a "member-at-large" title.

What is clear is that Eclipse will have to make sure it communicates the messages of openness and commercialization in a proper fashion, or risk raising the ire of developers wary of the blurring of the lines between open-source and proprietary technologies. McGaughey said the Eclipse member companies understand what the new "hybrid" organization entails.

"The members-at-large will take technology from the developments of the open-source side of Eclipse and bring it to market," McGaughey said. "If we can replicate that model, we feel the industry would grow considerably."

If there are any doubting Thomases who don't believe Eclipse is expanding, the consortium is hosting its first major technical conference, EclipseCon 2004, February 2-5 in Anaheim, Calif. This event will showcase projects developed in congress by the 49 member companies as they try to make a strong case for Java development as an alternative to Microsoft's .NET development platform.

The Eclipse open projects have also delivered two major versions and a dozen stable platform releases up until current Eclipse release R2.1.2 and developers issued early stream stable builds of R3 October 10. The group is now working its way toward a third version of its flagship platform, R3, which Eclipse Project Lead John Wiegand said will be introduced at EclipseCon and should appear some time around mid-2004.

The revised platform will feature greater scalability, so that it will work well in the face of hundreds of plug-ins, said Wiegand in a recent interview. Also on tap for R3 are enhanced responsiveness for jobs and a restructured, independent development environment (IDE) workbench.

In addition to a base platform, the group now hosts seventeen open technology projects, the most recent of which is the Visual Editor Project, a new effort to produce reference development tools for an open, standard visual graphical user interface (GUI) construction and platform.

With it, Eclipse developers will no longer need to create graphical user interfaces by hand-coding Java source, said Visual Editor Project leader David Orme. Also, Eclipse developers hope the Visual Editor Project will establish an API that lets companies and open-source projects support any user interface framework and programming language supported by Eclipse. It will initially implement a reference GUI builder for the Java Swing/JFC and SWT GUI frameworks.

Orme will demonstrate the project, which will employ initial Java source code from IBM, at EclipseCon.

But more than standard GUI development, Eclipse boasts several unique projects, with industry experts listing favorites according to their area of coverage. For example, Jason Bloomberg, senior analyst for XML and Web services at research firm ZapThink, finds quality in the Eclipse Modeling Framework (EMF), an XML-based framework that supplies the data and semantic integration technology for Eclipse.

"Where Eclipse supplies code integration, EMF transforms models into efficient, correct, and customizable Java code," Bloomberg told internetnews.com. "In other words, EMF provides the glue between the modeling and programming worlds, offering an infrastructure to use models effectively in code by integrating UML, XML and Java. EMF thus fits well into IBM's Model-Driven Development approach, and is critically important for Model-Driven Architecture, which underpins service-oriented architectures."