Eclipse grows beyond Java tools

Get to know Eclipse in Q&A with executive director

Mike Milinkovich is the executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, a nonprofit that oversees an open source community focused on application development tools. Founded by IBM in 2001, Eclipse became independently managed in 2004 and now boasts that more than 4 million people worldwide use Eclipse and Eclipse-based products. EBay, for example, used Eclipse to build much of its online architecture. Milinkovich this week discussed the Eclipse organization and its goals with Senior Writer Jon Brodkin.

What was the impetus for starting Eclipse?

Originally it was focused on tools for Java developers. The goal was to create an ecosystem for Java tooling which rivaled the depth and breadth of what Visual.net did for the [Microsoft framework] .NET. What Microsoft was doing with .NET was if you were using Microsoft platforms, there's one set of tools. IBM's strategy at the time was to do something similar for Java.

Why did IBM relinquish control of Eclipse?

What IBM started to observe was that although it was doing really well, it was hitting a glass ceiling because IBM's direct competitors did not want to get involved in a project they perceived as being too closely aligned with IBM. So in January 2004 the Eclipse Foundation was created, which is a separate, independent, not-for-profit entity that took over stewardship of the Eclipse community. That strategy really did work because a year after that a number of IBM's direct competitors, including BEA, Borland and Computer Associates, all joined the Eclipse Foundation and started building their tooling products on top of Eclipse.

What sorts of products are based on Eclipse's application development tools?

In the appdev space related to Java now, pretty much most of the products out there today for Java are based on Eclipse: SAP NetWeaver Studio, BEA WebLogic Workshop, all of the IBM Rational software.

Anything besides Java?

It's started to outgrow Java. We've been very successful with our C and C++ development toolset, and in the embedded and real-time space. The biggest advantage is the fact that it's a common platform that different tool vendors can pick up and implement their tools on top of, rather than starting from scratch. SAP uses Eclipse because it saves them an enormous amount of money building and supporting a basic tool infrastructure for building their NetWeaver Studio.

Who ends up using products based on Eclipse tools?

Most of the big companies, banks and insurance companies, healthcare organizations. Eclipse's biggest chunk of market share is in large enterprises [that use it to build internal applications], largely because it's used in so many products, it provides a common tooling platform.

What is the nature of the partnership with IBM these days?

Now that Eclipse is a completely independent organization, the governance of it is completely vendor neutral. So IBM doesn't get any extra votes because they were the original founder. Where they do get a little more weight, because in the projects themselves IBM is still the largest single patron; they're putting more resources into Eclipse projects. The entire Rational product line, the entire Lotus product line and a big chunk of WebSphere are all based on top of Eclipse technologies. They are heavily invested in Eclipse.

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