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A Sun Block for Eclipse Group

Sun Microsystems has refused an offer to join the Eclipse consortium in a move industry watchers say could further polarize the industry's attempt to unite Java development efforts to combat Microsoft's .NET.

Eclipse is an open standards-based development community specializing in the creation of Java applications. IBM, which pumped $40 million in seed money when the group was formed two years ago, is the leading backer and code contributor.

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 .

IBM's perceived influence in the group has always been a concern for Sun, which has its own development community, NetBeans.org, that shepherds similar tasks and projects.

Joe Keller, vice president of marketing for Java Web Services and Development Platforms at Sun Microsystems, issued the following statement: "Since a common ground that would allow an equitable share in mutual development could not be found, Sun will not pursue hybrid options such as merging NetBeans.org with Eclipse.org. Sun and Eclipse held considerable good-will discussions and performed due diligence on this matter, and Sun's decision was not made lightly."

Many industry watchers have hoped the Eclipse and NetBeans groups might join forces to streamline Java development but that vision has dimmed -- at least, for now. Sun and IBM still can't see eye to eye.

Redmonk Senior Analyst Stephen O'Grady called the development a "mess."

"It's an unfortunate situation for all Java tools vendors, really," O'Grady said. "While it's a tremendously complicated issue on both sides, it's one that needs to be resolved. We need to be careful not to overstate the significance of this rift, because it's not going to kill the Java tools market, but it is certainly affecting both vendors and tool users significantly. Sooner or later, this is something the Java tools community is going to have to address, because the Java vendors' real enemy here -- Microsoft -- is only strengthened by the current disunity."

A Sun spokesperson confirmed the announcement was made at an Eclipse meeting in Dallas Wednesday and noted that a major part of the decision was IBM's "refusal to meet Sun halfway and make certain concessions," which are confidential.

The Sun spokesperson called the decision "mutual" and said that in addition to the differences in process, projects and code development, Eclipse also agreed that perhaps now was not the right time for Sun to join the consortium.

Eclipse Chairperson Skip McGaughey said his group had worked for nine months to find ways to collaborate both technically and organizationally. Sun made a decision not to join, he said, but refused comment on what Sun's reasons were. He also said the invitation for Sun to join Eclipse stands.

"The invitiation to Sun is still open and we're looking forward to collaborating and working with Sun in the future," McGaughey said.

The fallout comes with a tinge of irony. While Sun is arguing that IBM won't budge on certain points, experts accuse Sun of being stubborn in its requests for inclusion into Eclipse. The Sun spokesperson said it asked one specific "third-party" moderator who believed Sun was being obstinate to sit in on the talks. The spokesperson said the analyst found that IBM was the party that did not back down.

The news comes weeks before Eclipse is scheduled to embark on a significant transition to split the open-source development aspects from the commercialization of Eclipse products. The commercial-oriented group will operate independent of the open-source part to Eclipse and a 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.

Meanwhile, Keller said Sun will continue to work with industry partners to achieve alignment and interoperability in the Java tools market and stressed that NetBeans, for which a new roadmap has been released Thursday, is at its "strongest point ever," with an average of 12,500 downloads per day of NetBeans 3.5.1.