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Eclipse learns how to let go

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EclipseCon The Eclipse Foundation looks destined to remain a mistress to Microsoft and Sun Microsystems - while the platform is married to IBM.

The fifth annual EclipseCon this week saw a blockbuster project announcement and an almost shocking partnership.

News that Sun selected the EclipseLink project as the reference implementation for the Java Persistence 2.0 API was a big surprise. It means Sun's open source application server will use EclipseLink and that Sun has become a committer to the project.

Sun remains officially outside Eclipse. But it will not become a member of the Eclipse community, despite the fact that many Java Community Process members "got over it" some time back and joined Eclipse.

Sun will also continue to push its NetBeans framework and integrated development environment in direct competition with Eclipse tooling.

Eclipse Foundation executive director Mike Milinkovich greeted the news of Sun's support and continued absence from Eclipse with characteristic restraint.

"Sure, I think having a press release with quotes in it from Sun is great," he told Reg Dev. "We'd love to have Sun involved with Eclipse. I think Sun tapping into the energy of what's going on in the broader Eclipse community is a good thing."

Then, there is Microsoft's promise to provide engineering resources to make the Standard Widget Toolkit project work with Windows Presentation Foundation.

Again, no commitment to join Eclipse from Microsoft, although the company is evaluating "other" projects in Eclipse.

This is a marriage of convenience rather than a blossoming of love. Microsoft needs Java and open source developers who've been turning away from Windows to pick Linux as a development platform and a runtime environment. Particularly pressing at the moment, is uptake of that well-known resource hog Windows Vista by a community increasingly running Mac on their development machines.

Going for growth

Despite millions of downloads, Eclipse needs growth. With the Eclipse platform second only to Visual Studio in market share, there's two ways it can go from here without Microsoft's support. Plateau or decline.

Growth will come from persuading more Visual Studio developers to run Eclipse with Visual Studio. WPF is a vital first step because it will help finesse the Eclipse experience for millions of developers used to the polish of Visual Studio who will be deterred from using Eclipse by its relative clunkiness and confusion, and by the performance of Eclipse in the Windows Vista's Aero interface.

Milinkovich is sanguine about Eclipse's relationship with Microsoft. "You see these headlines: 'Eclipse taking on .NET and Java'," he said. "Well, no, we're not. This is just the beginning of another open source project. I do like to think of it as Eclipse as having the potential to become the open source competitor to .NET, but these are early days."

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