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Dawn of the New Eclipse

The reorganization of Eclipse as a non-profit foundation will be the centerpiece of an event next week, organizers said Friday. The goal is to demonstrate the software tools created using the open-source Eclipse platform.

But the consortium's retrenching has left a familiar dissident unsatisfied. Sun Microsystems sent an open letter this week to Eclipse expressing concern about the fragmentation of the development community concerning Java tools.

Sun, which has created its own open-source tools platform called NetBeans, has long flirted with joining Eclipse. But the Java creator balked because of IBM's sphere of influence over the group. IBM spawned the Eclipse platform in 2001 and ceded it to the community with $40 million in investment cash.

With the reorganization, IBM would supposedly fade into the background, leaving a few key members in the group. Eclipse would become an independent foundation and ideally, those who feared IBM's sway might feel more comfortable.

But Sun fears for its own opens-ource platform, NetBeans, which it feels would be affected by joining Eclipse. Sun's Richard Green, vice president of developer platforms commented:

"Sun bases all of its commercial tools products on the NetBeans open source IDE [Integrated Development Environment]. The required mandatory transition to the Eclipse platform would inhibit development of innovative technologies like the Sun Java Studio Creator product [previously code-named Project Rave], and require a reconstruction of all of our existing tools. 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."

Chief among Sun's concerns are certain bylaws, which Sun said give the executive director an unusual amount of power to form projects and assign resources. Green also expressed concern that IBM controls "70 to 80 percent of the project staffers."

Eclipse Steward Dave Bernstein responded Friday: "To be clear, the invitation for Sun to join Eclipse at the Board of Directors level -- extended unanimously by the Eclipse Stewards -- does not require Sun to abandon or in any way deprecate the NetBeans platform. It requires Sun to take development leadership of one or more Eclipse Projects and pay annual dues, as is required of every other Strategic Developer."

Green offered advice for Eclipse, urging the group not to define interoperability "on your own terms, but rather work with other major players in the industry to achieve actual interoperability."

Redmonk Senior Analyst Stephen O'Grady commented on the dicey situation, which increasingly seems to be a power struggle between the two major Java organizations.

While Sun has expressed their willingness to work with Eclipse under the right conditions, O'Grady said: "the problem with all of this is that despite the de-emphasis of the technical divide, I have a tough time seeing a bridging of this gap without significant concessions and compromises on one side or the other, and this letter doesn't offer much hope of that occurring any time soon."

Sun's Position
Sun has a murky history with Eclipse and has flirted with the notion of joining. Despite face-to-face discussions with rival IBM, technical and philosophical differences kept the company responsible for Java away, with NetBeans close at hand.

After all, NetBeans forms the basis of Sun's Java software tools, just as Eclipse is the framework for tools developed by IBM's Rational software development division.

To be sure, James Gosling, Sun Chief Technology Officer for Sun's Developer Platform, said in a recent NetBeans presentation:

"NetBeans is our future in tools," Gosling said. "Our involvement in Eclipse -- should it happen -- would be in tools integration. Exactly what form it takes, I'm not sure. But it will not be to throw out NetBeans for Eclipse. I want NetBeans to have a bright and happy future and at some level, I would like a happy future for Eclipse and others. I'm a big believer in bio-diversity. Nonetheless, I'd like NetBeans to be one of the winners."

But with IBM stepping back a bit and opening up the group for a tiered hierarchy, experts agreed the allure of Eclipse would be greater. Industry watchers also largely agree that Sun's presence in the foundation would be a triumphant addition and a compelling argument for those looking to sway Microsoft .NET and Visual Basic developers to the Java side.

But with Sun's latest letter, who can say for sure if this will happen.

Why Reorganize Now?
So, why would Eclipse organize now after nearly three years of development success? Simple: pure growth. Eclipse has grown to include more than 50 members and 18 million download requests.

The Eclipse Board of Stewards, which provided guidance for the consortium, spent the last nine months figuring out a way to organize the group, which was growing a bit big for its britches and required more order. IBM Rational Chief Technology Officer Lee Nackman, who doubles as an Eclipse Steward, said it was time for a change.

"Things like this go through various phases of maturity," Nackman told internetnews.com. "We put the code out there and nurtured it along and it's gotten its own momentum and has lots of companies involved. It was time to let Eclipse go its own way. The next step in the evolution is to become an independent organization."

The Eclipse Foundation will be born February 2 with new tiers of organization, according to Eclipse spokesman and IBM employee Skip McGaughey. The software will remain royalty-free in the open-source fashion, McGaughey told internetnews.com, but a management organization is being put in place to corral the commercial developers and consumers, academic and research institutions, standards bodies, tool interoperability groups and individual developers.

A 12-member board of directors will provide guidance from four degrees of membership: Strategic Developers; Strategic Consumers; Add-in Providers, which will employ Eclipse in commercial offerings; and Open Source project leaders. IBM will have a member on the board of directors and a full-time Executive Director to lead the management team

Three councils will keep Eclipse development projects on course, including one for requirements, architecture and planning. McGaughey stressed that the board will be comprised of a variety of companies, including those who deal in Linux and embedded systems.

"Eclipse needs a professional staff to make decisions," Nackman said. There will be budget contributions coming from the member companies. IBM is not only happy, but we think this is good for the ecosystem."

Others agree. Jeff Anders, development tools group marketing manager at Sun, said in a recent interview, but before his company's dissenting letter to Eclipse, that Sun would welcome such a reorganization.

Jochen Krause, President and Founder of software maker Innoopract and an Eclipse Steward whose contributions to the Eclipse reorganization McGaughey called termed "immense," agreed that this is for the best.

"We definitely like the new role that Eclipse is going to play as an independent entity," Krause told internetnews.com in a recent interview. It took a lot of courage for IBM to let Eclipse go. We really applaud IBM for giving it up. This is a very smart move for Eclipse to help it become further accepted."

"Things will change with the new powers within Eclipse, and we've always stated clearly Sun is welcome to Eclipse -- for two reasons: one is simple business -- we are viewed as bigger and more successful in the market the less Eclipse is viewed as being divisive. The other is more obvious: that Sun has a lot of experience as the founder of Java."

Moreover, Krause said the strengthening of Eclipse will give it more firepower to counter Microsoft's .NET movement, noting that both the Java and .NET camps appear evenly matched. Krause hopes Eclipse may eventually sway Microsoft users to Java development.