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Eclipse Foundation Celebrates 10th Anniversary

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Yesterday the Eclipse foundation celebrated its tenth anniversary. The original press release in February 2004 declared the not-for-profit organisation was created from its prior stewardship role to bring together independent parties from developers, consumers and add-in providers to form a board responsible for the long-term direction of Eclipse.

By the time the foundation was created, there were 19 projects with 50 members on board, having had three years of development as the open-source platform behind it. To avoid perceived bias from IBM (which founded the Eclipse consortium after its initial release in 2001) the foundation aimed to bring platform players together to standardise and build the Eclipse ecosystem. Ten years later, there are 247 projects and 205 members, demonstrating the success of the collaborative governance model.

At the time, Sun Microsystems congratulated Eclipse on its vendor neutral stance and to confirm that both Sun and Eclipse wanted to see the big picture of Java move forwards. Sun were trying to open up the platform for shared tools, having invested in NetBeans from the beginning. They cited the JavaTools initiative (page not updated since Jan 2004) and Sun Java Studio Creator as valuable tools they could bring to the table. However, at the time Sun were not interested in retooling NetBeans to work on top of the Eclipse platform, noting:

The required mandatory transition to the Eclipse platform would inhibit development of innovative technologies like the Sun Java Studio Creator product (code-named Project Rave), and require a reconstruction of all of our existing tools. Any entry criteria requiring that Sun abandon the NetBeans open source platform directly conflicts with the concept of choice and diversity, the very bases that gave Eclipse its beginning. If this condition were to change, we would be happy to reconsider [membership of the Eclipse foundation]. In the meantime, it is worthwhile to explore how we (and others) can work with Eclipse to align in a way that benefits the strength of the Java platform as a whole, especially with the multi-partner community recently announced.

There were some valid concerns Sun raised at the start of the Eclipse foundation's creation; questioning whether the executive director of the Eclipse foundation would be impartial, whether IBM would continue to hold dominance over the Eclipse projects, and whether the Eclipse foundation would pay for IP instead of relying on donations.

Mike Milinkovich, director of the Eclipse foundation for most of the last decade, takes a look back over those past ten years and provides a view on how well they coped with these fears:

  • The first thing that struck me was how much has changed in 10 years. If you read Sun’s open letter in particular, it’s definitely a bit of a time capsule. Of course, Sun itself has long since been acquired by Oracle. And although NetBeans does continue to thrive, I can barely remember Sun Java Studio Creator, or the Java Tools Community. (The “Page last updated 15 January 2004″ rather says it all.)
  • One of the questions that Sun raised was around the true independence of the Executive Director (which five months later turned out to be me) and the organization itself. On that topic, I think that the Foundation deserves very high marks. We’re fiercely vendor neutral at Eclipse, and every decision we make is checked against that principle. As for me, I answer to the entire Board at Eclipse, as well as the community, and I consider the independence of the Foundation to be paramount. I think a watershed moment in the Eclipse Foundation’s history was when both Borland and BEA signed on as strategic members in time for EclipseCon 2005. Having those direct competitors join the fun was a very clear endorsement of the Eclipse Foundation’s governance and independence.
  • On helping to improve Java interoperability, Eclipse has been part of the Java Community Process for many years, and I’ve served on the JCP Executive Committee for six. I can’t say that we’ve fixed all the issues with the JCP, but we’re certainly committed to trying.
  • Remember the Swing vs. SWT debate? Although it was wonderful flame bait for quite a while, the whole thing seems so overblown in retrospect. Especially given that Swing seems destined for maintenance-only with JavaFX on the horizon. And the development world has definitely changed from once wanting a high degree of desktop fidelity to caring more about custom application look and feel.

Today Eclipse is much more than an IDE for a particular language, although many developers still conflate the eponymous Java development environment with the name. Instead, the Eclipse foundation has grown into other languages (with JavaScript and Vert.X now being an Eclipse project) as well as other tools (Vert.X is hosted on GitHub). The focus of end desktop applications has moved to the web, and Orion provides one of the well known web-based developer tools.

In fact, the next major growth area of the internet isn't in languages or tools anyway; the Eclipse foundation has been focussing on the Internet of Things (IoT) following Wayne Gretzky's advice on "skating to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been."

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