February 28, 2005 4:00 AM PST
Eclipse lights up Java crowd
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someone can combine tools for writing code with "plug-ins" for modeling databases or testing applications. IBM is using the Eclipse software to provide a common foundation for its suite of development tools, giving a disparate product set a common user interface as well as a mechanism to share information.
Microsoft has a similar "platform" approach, in that third parties can write add-ons for Visual Studio and developers can write code in many different languages.
Perhaps the most glaring difference between the Eclipse approach and Microsoft's is that the Eclipse software is open source, which means anyone can download and modify the code. But the Eclipse Foundation is somewhat unique in its structure, reflecting how corporations are increasingly active in open-source projects.
Hardly a grassroots collaborative effort willing to take code donations from volunteers around the world, Eclipse is directed by vendors. Employees from independent software vendors, or ISVs, hold nearly all the board positions and make up the majority of the contributors.
That vendor membership is by design, said Mike Milinkovich, the executive director of Eclipse. Eclipse's software has developed rapidly because of such membership, coupled with the open-source development model, he said. That's as opposed to a model that relies on industry consortia such as standards organizations.
"A lot of innovation is happening in open source," said Milinkovich, who said standards should come after new software inventions. "I always thought that innovating while doing the standards is a little confusing."
Indeed, the pace of development in Eclipse is one of the reasons BEA joined the organization, said Alfred Chuang, the company's CEO. The Java standards body, called the Java Community Process, "is just not fast enough," Chuang said.
For its part, Sun declined invitations to join Eclipse in 2003. Following its decision, it sent an open letter to Eclipse, urging the group to unify the Java community, rather than serve IBM's purposes.
Sun is competing for Java developer attention through its NetBeans open-source project. It reinvigorated the effort with a major update last year and is basing its own development tools products on the NetBeans software.
But some people think Sun's choice of going with NetBeans doesn't serve the company or the Java industry. Having a single software
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