February 28, 2005 4:00 AM PST

Eclipse lights up Java crowd

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A little more than a year ago, detractors painted the Eclipse open-source project as nothing more than a ploy by IBM to sell its own software. Today, by most accounts, it's the center of innovation in the Java tools industry.

On Monday, a sold-out EclipseCon conference will open and, unlike last year's inaugural meeting, IBM technical gurus will not be the center of attention.

Instead, the open-source foundation will fete its newest board members--IBM rivals BEA Systems, Sybase and Borland International--and detail the expanding list of development-related projects under Eclipse's purview.


What's new:
With the EclipseCon conference set to start this week, the Eclipse open-source foundation has gained new board members BEA, Borland and Sybase.

Bottom line:
Once considered a Trojan horse to sell IBM software, the Eclipse organization has become the leading source of innovation in the Java tools industry.

More stories on the Eclipse Foundation

"Eclipse is definitely the dominant Java tools platform," said Thomas Murphy, an analyst at the Meta Group. "And increasingly, the Eclipse organization will be pushing this message of a general-purpose platform."

IBM founded the Eclipse consortium in November 2001 with $40 million in seed money and a substantial donation in code. Today, the group has 91 members, including most of the largest software companies. And it produces what is now the most popular Java development tool, according to Evans Data.

Eclipse became an independent nonprofit foundation, spun off from IBM, one year ago. That independence helped fuel its momentum, as vendors such as BEA, which once stayed clear of Eclipse, began jumping on board.

In effect, Eclipse has managed to unify the great majority of Java providers--with the notable exception of Sun Microsystems, and limited participation from Oracle--something that years of industrywide standardization efforts never did.

"It's over," said Bob Bickel, vice president of corporate strategy at open-source Java company JBoss, referring to competition in the Java tools industry.

"Eclipse has just reached that tipping-point critical mass. There's the economic interest among all the vendors to drop their costs of creating new toolsets," he said.

Open source in suits' clothing
Having a common development-tool technology is vital in Java vendors' shared fight against Microsoft. Winning over developers has been a long-standing battle between the two camps, because programmers can influence the choice of pricier, back-end software for running business applications.

The Eclipse software in some ways mimics what Microsoft has with its flagship development product, Visual Studio.

The Eclipse Platform, as it's called, lets a programmer use several different tools from the same application. From the same front end,

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An associate of mine and I were talking about the "situation" between Sun and IBM, particularly because of this article. His argument was that Java could really go places if Sun didn't have such a stronghold on the Java product, and by "opening it up" (having it managed by a public committee of different groups/teams, as well as the open-source community), could actually put Microsoft's .NET to shame.

The amusing part is that Eclipse requires a Java VM to run. Consumers and developers are left with only one choice of JVM out there: the one from Sun. So, in English: Eclipse -- an IBM product -- requires a Sun product to work.

My colleague pointed out that there was an IBM JRE/JVM available (Java v1.4.2). I took the liberty of examining IBMs page, only to find the following pre-requisite for using IBM's JRE/JVM:

- Required for installation:
- * Computer must be an IBM system. This program will not install on non-IBM systems.
- * Computer must be running Microsoft Windows Me, 2000, or XP. Or must be updated withthe latest WMI classes if running an older Microsoft operating system.

Again, in English: IBM's JRE/JVM can't be used on any NON-IBM computer. I believe their claim to be accurate (re: won't install on any non-IBM computer), though I have not tested it.

Some may be thinking "What about Microsoft's JRE/JVM? HUH? WHAT ABOUT THAT?" You won't find it on Microsoft's page. If you remember, Sun took them to court -- and won. You can find Microsoft's JRE/JVM floating around on the 'net, but it's not supported, hasn't been updated in years upon years, and doesn't exactly work as well on newer Windows releases (compared to back then).

With all of this in mind, I would say the "stronghold" attitude is a two-way street. Sun's releases a JRE/JVM to the public for free (which is an absolute pile of garbage, for the record); IBM's Eclipse relies on that crappy JRE/JVM to run; IBM's own JRE/JVM is only available to users using IBM-specific equipment.

I believe the final inning to this game will result in Java dying off entirely -- something that, in my opinion, should've happened in the late 90s. Don't get me wrong, I don't necessarily want to see Microsoft .NET dominate either, but the reality of the situation is that Java is going to end up a corpse unless BOTH corporations decide to team up and make something worthwhile for both consumers and developers.
Posted by katamari (310 comments )
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I think in a lot a ways you are right. I think Sun needs to relinquish total control of Java if they expect it to become dominant. However, I don't want to see 10 different JVM's or people just bloating it up to suit everybodies needs.

More over though I think it's time for a new language all the way around. One that is clean and neat and can be compiled to machine language or byte language. One that doesn't allow for as much control as C++, but doesn't limit it to uselessness. Pascal would be a good example of a clean language. Java is a good example of limiting control.

Unfortunatly Java and .Net have a lot of overhead. C++ allows for to much control over programs when it's not needed. Pascal like a lot of other languages isn't support very well.
Posted by System Tyrant (1453 comments )
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