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Eclipse Europa: Eureka!

If good news were headline news, we'd see a crawler across the bottom of the screen on CNN reading:

Open-source developers do something that Microsoft and Apple can't: Deliver a complex bundle of software on time, year after year.

Simply and reliably to git-r-done may not win headlines, but it does win fans. Which probably explains why Eclipse has over two-million users and something like two-thirds of the Java IDE market.

As it has with every major release for the past three years, the Eclipse Foundation has unveiled a major update—the Europa release—on schedule. Meanwhile, Apple has had to postpone its yearly update of OS X to divert development efforts to its new cell phone business, and Microsoft isn't even talking about when the next major release of Windows will occur (although they do admit they are "working on it").

The Universe of Eclipse

Eclipse, in case you've been living in the subsurface ocean of Jupiter's moon Europa for the past five years and missed it, is a vendor-neutral set of open-source frameworks and

exemplary tools for software development, a toolset sufficiently rich that Mike Milinkovich, Executive Director of the Eclipse Foundation (, and Ward Cunningham, the former Eclipse Foundation Director, Committer Community Development, both insist that it is more than an IDE.

That didn't stop 60 percent of respondents in an Evans Data survey last year from identifying Eclipse as their primary IDE. More than an IDE? Well, Eclipse includes business intelligence reporting tools, data tools, a graphic modeling framework. And there are Eclipse-based IDEs for nearly all of the leading programming languages. Java and JavaScript. C, C++, and C#. PHP, Perl, and Python. Ada, Lisp/Scheme, Cobol, Ruby—and so on.

As interesting as what goes into an Eclipse release is who is involved in it. The Eclipse universe includes those who contribute as well as those who use. "In the embedded and mobile industry," says Milinkovich, "the Eclipse C/C++ IDE has become the de facto IDE for real-time operating systems." He adds that most of the major RTOS vendors have adopted Eclipse as their tools platform.

As for who contributes, about 50 different organizations are represented among the hundreds of Eclipse developers working on 75+ projects. As is the case with other major open-source projects, Eclipse is not just some hobby effort of independent programmers. Major computer industry corporations make the strategic decision to invest in Eclipse. They invest in many ways: By supporting their employees to work on Eclipse, by making intellectual property available, and by paying dues to the not-for-profit Eclipse Foundation.

Eclipse, as much as any open-source project, demonstrates that open source is serious business.

Today the roster of just strategic developers alone includes BEA, Borland, IBM, Intel, Motorola, Nokia, Oracle, and Sybase as well as Acutate, Cloudsmith, Compuware, INNOOPRACT, Iona, OpenMethods, Serena, Simula Labs, SOPERA, Wind River, and Zend.

What they contribute is significant. Strategic developers must put eight programmers to work on Eclipse projects full time, pay up to $250,000 in dues, and lead one or more Eclipse Open Source project. Strategic consumers pay up to $500,000 dues, reduced by contributing one or two full-time developers. Add-in Providers, another category of players in the Eclipse game, pay $5000 dues. Committers are individuals allowed write access to CVS repositories. Eclipse has on the order of 800 committers today.

Is a quarter of a million dollars a lot for a company to invest in an open-source IDE? Not for BEA, who claims that it's a bargain, giving the company the equivalent of 200 extra developers. But no company has invested in Eclipse as heavily as IBM, where the Eclipse project started.

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