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Eclipse learns how to let go

Swapping IBM for Sun and Microsoft

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That's a significant toning down of the rhetoric from 2006, before Windows Vista, when Milinkovich talked of Eclipse disrupting Microsoft's desktop business ahead of Windows Vista. At the time Eclipse touted backwards compatibility and the ability for ISVs to compile applications across different platforms using the then-new Rich Client Platform. This has since been picked up by IBM's Lotus division, here and here.

Eclipse's desire to grow, and for its potential force in this market, was demonstrated by EclipseCon's other big news: an initiative to develop and promote a community around Equinox, the lightweight OSGi-based runtime, that's now called Eclipse RT.

This is big news, given the trajectory of the Eclipse tooling framework, which flattened the IDE (integrated development environment) market a few years ago like an open-source steamroller.

The big question for Eclipse and possibly the single biggest reason why Microsoft and Sun are so hesitant on committing remains the age-old issue of IBM. Salaried IBM staffers dominate the current 3.x Eclipse platform.

There was plenty of "peace and love" rhetoric at EclipseCon - ironically, from the director of Microsoft's open source labs Sam Ramji announcing support for SWT - about how everything's better when the engineers are left to sort things out together.

Even engineers, though, can have corporate affiliations and technology preferences that might seem reasonable to the individual but lead to fights and disagreements.

Bitter Java

The bottom line is this: Eclipse promotes Java, and that will continue to be a difficult corporate pill for Microsoft to swallow. As far as Sun is concerned, Eclipse is promoting the "wrong" flavor of Java - SWT instead of Swing, so Sun is leaving the work of interoperability between the two to others.

Little wonder, then, that with discussion on the fourth iteration of the Eclipse platform starting, there are already concerns about continued domination by IBM.

Milinkovich and early committers to Eclipse 4.0, or e4, speaking at EclipseCon, though, are phrasing there concern in more politically correct terms, expressing a desire for more "diversity" among committers.

That's important. Diversity would be welcomed - or, in the view of conspiracy theorists, sanctioned - by IBM, as more committers would help relieve the company from the burden of paying to support a tools platform that it ends up competing against as often as it uses.

A reduced role for IBM on the platform project would leave Eclipse swinging for committers. Suddenly, the call for diversity sounds like reality talking. Without a fresh intake, and in the absence of IBM, it's questionable whether the Eclipse platform could progress to the web and desktop friendly incarnation hoped for version four. Enter Sun and Microsoft.

That's if early work on e4 picks up, though. As Milinkovich told us: "This is a community based effort, and we often say things like: 'We're doing this, we're trying it out, and we hope people like it', but we don't know where it's going to end up."®

The essential guide to IT transformation

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