Eclipse exec: Platform upgrade a blank slate

Milinkovich discusses Eclipse and issues such as the recent open-sourcing of Java

Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation for open source developer tools, is a frequent interview subject at IDG. Given the popularity of Eclipse and its having attracted just about every major computer technology company, perhaps frequent updates from Milinkovich are appropriate. Paul Krill met with Milinkovich at the EclipseCon 2007 conference last week to get perspectives on Eclipse and issues such as the recent open-sourcing of Java.

We talked this morning for a few minutes about the theoretical Eclipse 4.0 platform. What do you think might be in that? You're already covering about 80 different technology areas, so what's left to add to it and what might you expand on in Eclipse 4.0? (The current release of Eclipse Platform is version 3.2.)

The idea of doing an Eclipse 4.0 is mostly focused on the platform, so it's not so much about expanding the coverage of Eclipse, as you put it. It's about the core technology that those 80 different projects build on top of. And frankly, at this point, I don't know, we're really just starting the conversation about what the community thinks would be useful additions.

What constitutes the core platform?

Currently, the Eclipse project consists of a number of different frameworks, but they can be basically grouped into four different areas. There's Equinox, which is the basic core runtime for Eclipse. There's the tools platform, which is the basic infrastructure for building Eclipse-based tools. There's the JDT, or the Java Development Tools project, which is the Java IDE that most people think of when they think of Eclipse. And then finally, there's the PDE, the Plug-in Development Environment, which is the tool that you use for creating Eclipse plug-ins.

Where do you think you might go with the platform? Do you want to make it more scalable and add more languages? What do you think might end up in there?

I don't know.

When might there be an Eclipse 4.0? I think you said not for a couple years.

Yes, not for a couple years. This is the very beginning of the conversation. The first question is, does the Eclipse community even think that doing a 4.0 would be a good idea? So these are very, very early days, and it's very exploratory at this point.

Do you think it is a good idea?

I think probably, yes. On balance, it's a good idea.

Why?

Because you don't want to be stagnant. You want to make sure that you're evolving your platform. In any software project, it's important to make sure that you're constantly working to keep the technology fresh and current. But we need to get feedback from the community before we make any decisions.

Eclipse has been around since 2001 and was broken off into its own organization in 2004. What would you say is the value of the economy around Eclipse? How many products are being sold based on Eclipse?

Let me preface this by saying that these are my somewhat informed guesses. We don't have hard numbers on a lot of these different things. But in terms of the number of products that are built on Eclipse, it's clearly in the hundreds if not, perhaps, even in the low thousands. In the embedded space alone there are probably hundreds of products. I have a Google Alert for Eclipse embedded, and I'm constantly getting bombarded by new products in that space. In terms of the overall dollar value, I don't really know, but I'm pretty confident that it's well over US$1 billion, in terms of the size of the entire ecosystem. And I'd love to find somebody who's willing to do a free study to give us better numbers.

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