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IBM is introducing paid support for users of development tools using Eclipse, while expanding its own products running on the open source framework.

IBM will charge $400 per developer each year for tools running on Eclipse. The deal will apparently extend beyond IBM's own Rational suite to software distributed by Eclipse.org and other vendors, IBM said Thursday.

The computing and services giant, Eclipse's biggest backer, said it is providing the first enterprise class support offering for organisations heavily invested in Eclipse, with subscribers entitled to an unlimited number of support queries.

IDC claims 2.3m Eclipse users worldwide, with more than 600 plug-ins to the framework and over 150 members of the Eclipse Foundation spanning mobile, hardware and software companies.

Support by IBM will likely be welcomed by those who turned to Eclipse in the first place as a way to outsource R&D on tools where tools were not a core part of their business. IBM is effectively now letting them outsource support for Eclipse-based tools - even though IBM will likely be the largest beneficiary in the short term. Support from IBM is likely to encourage further uptake of Eclipse, which helps current and future IBM Rational and Lotus products using Eclipse.

It remains to be seen, though, whether IBM is literally on the money by charging $400 per developer each year. While between $400 and $600 seems to be the going range for open source support and maintenance, Evans Data Corp this year found hard-core resistance to paying anything for supporting Eclipse, while a third expect to pay less than $100.

It was an ominous comment on the future of support for open source when Pervasive Software last month pulled its offering for the Postgres database. Pervasive said there was no market here owing to the ubiquity of free help available on the internet.

In the meantime, IBM is forging ahead with its plans to create a critical mass for Eclipse. The company will this month release a free beta of the next version of its IBM Lotus Designer that will let developers build components that run in WebSphere Portal 6.0 using Eclipse's Callisto project, while making resources available for Callisto on its developerWorks site.

IBM will next month begin beta testing of the Eclipse-based IBM Rational Software Architect and IBM Rational Functional Tester 7.0. ®

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