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Fear and slow loading: Eclipse celebrates 10 unsettling years

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There are now 273 open-source projects at Eclipse and 174 member companies of the Foundation. The achievement is impressive, but 10 years on, is the code getting bloated? I ran up Eclipse 1.0 when researching this piece, and while it is light on features, its simplicity and responsiveness compared to the latest "Indigo" release is a delight. Eclipse also has dependency issues, where one project depends on a certain version of another, and as you add features to an Eclipse installation this can cause problems. "The dependency challenges are never going to completely go away, because of a conscious decision to make Eclipse an open ecosystem," says Milinkovich.

Problems like these mean that not everyone loves Eclipse. "Thank goodness! There are command-line options for building Android apps... I'll take this over Eclipse any day," Tweeted jQuery creator John Resig last month. "I'd happily use another tool (IntelliJ, Netbeans, etc) if it allowed me to use the Android Development Tools," he adds in another Tweet.

Fortunately there are efforts to move on from the old code base. Next year's "Juno" release will be the first based on the 4.x code, which has been in beta for some time. According to Milinkovich, it is re-engineered to be lighter weight, removing obsolete APIs and forming a more modern platform.

"Thank goodness! There are command-line options for building Android apps... I'll take this over Eclipse any day" – jQuery creator John Resig

There is also Project Orion, a browser-hosted editor, though the initial focus is on web technologies such as HTML and Javascript rather than on Java. Orion supports plug-ins, as you would expect in an Eclipse project. "The tagline is development in the web, for the web, from the people who brought you Eclipse," says Milinkovich. "On some browsers the Orion editor is as fast or faster than Eclipse running on the desktop."

What is unique about Eclipse? Milinkovich says it is the path steered between commercial and community interests. "Since its inception, Eclipse has always been an open-source community that is joined at the hip with a commercial ecosystem," he says. "The EPL [Eclipse Public License] is the most commercially friendly of the copyleft licenses."

The consequence is that while Eclipse is free, many of the products built on Eclipse are not. Does that tension between free and commercial dilute the benefit of being open source? Not according to Milinkovich.

"There is not a tension, but a balancing... that is the way Eclipse was designed to work. We see that as a positive thing," he said. ®

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