IBM's Rational Investment
In November 2001, IBM launched the Eclipse project with $40 million worth of its own code, supported by a consortium of software vendors. In January 2004, the independent Eclipse Foundation was formed to shepherd Eclipse development and reassure developers concerned about the power of IBM over Eclipse projects. When in 2003 IBM acquired Rational Software, now the tools division of IBM and both then and now a big Eclipse contributor, IBM's shadow over Eclipse had grown even longer.
It worked. Companies that had looked on Eclipse skeptically in the consortium days now embraced it wholeheartedly. Or most of them, anyway. Two big players, Sun and Microsoft, each with their own IDE, still had issues with embracing Eclipse. And it couldn't have helped relations with Microsoft when legendary developer Ward Cunningham bailed on them to become the Eclipse Foundation's Director, Committer Community Development. "A high functioning committer community," the Foundation declared, "is about more than just sharing servers and following a common process." Cunningham, who invented the Wiki, was possibly the perfect candidate to tackle the job of encouraging a culture of collaboration and cooperation.
Sun's case is a little different. Under the stewardship of Jonathan Schwartz, Sun has been embracing Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) more and more. The choice of GPL as the license under which to FOSS-ify Java was an interesting one, in particular. But Eclipse, one of the great success stories of open source, had not been embraced by Sun.
In an open letter to Eclipse Membership in January 2004, Sun's Rich Green cited "mandatory transition to the Eclipse platform" as a sticking point in negotiations. "Any entry criteria requiring that Sun abandon the NetBeans Open Source platform," he said, "directly conflicts with the concept of choice and diversity, the very bases that gave Eclipse its beginning."
Which it doubtless would, but has anyone asked that? Eclipse Steward Dave Bernstein responded saying that "the invitation for Sun to join Eclipse at the Board of Directors level...does not require Sun to abandon or in any way deprecate the NetBeans platform."
Since then, the Eclipse Foundation has moved Eclipse away from domination by IBM, but Sun still had kept its distance. Then, this May, Eclipse got its first-ever committer from Sun, when Suresh Raju contributed code to get Eclipse working on Solaris x86. "I am very happy to see that sound business decisions are replacing rhetoric in the relationship between Sun and Eclipse," Milinkovich said, which probably went over really well with Schwartz and Green. Sun's most recent statement of position: "No current plans to join Eclipse today or in the future." [Dan Roberts, Director of Developer Tools Marketing]
In a Znet poll asking for the preferred integrated development environment for mobile Java applications, NetBeans pulled 71 percent of respondents, Eclipse 29 percent.
Meanwhile, IBM is still the biggest presence in the Eclipse community, and regards its investment every bit as positively as BEA regards its own.