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Eclipse Foundation Leverages Universal Data Collector to Learn About Users

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Building upon the successful release of last year's Europa, the Eclipse Foundation released 24 projects bundled together in one release called Ganymede. Included in this release is a new feature called the Usage Data Collector (UDC). The purpose of the UDC is defined as follows:


"The Eclipse Foundation is making use of the UDC to gather information about how the community is making use of Eclipse technology. The Foundation's immediate interest is to provide feedback to the project teams about the use of their technology in the field. The UDC is currently implemented with this purpose in mind (i.e. the exemplary application of the UDC technology is concerned with providing data to the Foundation)."

The UDC collects information about bundle events, workspace events, and commands using "monitors". A monitor is a Java class that installs a listener to capture events that should be of interest to the Eclipse development community. The UDC could be considered an automated market research tool with a potentially large reach (it is packaged with every Ganymede installation.) And of course Eclipse does not force this feature on its users, Ganymede prompts the user before sending any information back to the Eclipse Foundation. For those concerned with privacy, the UDC does not capture any personal information, including IP Address. In an article in JavaLobby, Mike Milinkovich, Eclipse's executive director, wrote:

"As you can imagine with any data collection technology, privacy is a huge concern. Therefore, to be clear, UDC is 1) opt-in, so only people that agree to send the data will participate, and 2) completely anonymous. No personal data, including IP addresses, is being collected."

It has "potentially" large reach because if enough Eclipse users opt-out of submitting UDC bundles then the Eclipse Foundation will not receive enough representative information to be able to improve Eclipse to meet its developers' needs. In a response to the JavaLobby article, Zviki Cohen raised a good point, that "collecting usage data is a "missing link" for desktop apps. It one of the key shortcomings when compared to web apps." Web applications are already monitoring user activities, so UDC attempts to bring this same paradigm to a desktop application.

Beyond providing insight into Eclipse usage, in an article in The Register, Milinkovich stated that the UDC will help quantify Eclipse usage which he hopes will provide Eclipse with hard ammunition to use against Sun Microsystems' NetBeans.

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