The group in charge of the open-source Eclipse project approved a three month long restructuring process this week that should reduce IBM's dominant role in the effort and make the project more attractive to Java vendors such as Sun Microsystems and BEA Systems.
The process will transform Eclipse into an independent corporation and may even see the project assume a new name that is more palatable to Sun, which has long been miffed by IBM's decision to name the effort after a celestial event associated with the obscuring of the Sun.
"The board, which is made up of 47 major companies in the tool business, (voted) to create an independent entity of Eclipse, and it was unanimous," said Eclipse Chairman Skip McGaughey. This independent entity is going to preserve and protect the open source nature of development, and it is going to preserve and protect the structural arrangements we have with all of the member companies."
Under Eclipse's new structure, which is expected to be in place by December, the project will be managed by a professional management organization, and IBM will have a less prominent role both as day-to-day manager of the project and as developer of the core Eclipse infrastructure, said McGaughey.
"If IBM is a dominant force in Eclipse, other companies that compete with IBM would have trouble joining Eclipse," he said. "So by creating an independent entity, it's a clear statement that what we're trying to do is create an industry wide platform for integration."
Oversight of Eclipse will be transferred to a new Board of Directors that will be made up of open source developers, Eclipse tool providers, and "strategic producers" who devote significant resources to the development of the Eclipse infrastructure, according to McGaughey.
The Eclipse project was founded with a US$40 million investment from IBM in 2001 to create an open source platform for building Java development tools. Though the majority of the Eclipse development work has been done by IBM engineers, the project has picked up the endorsement of a number of Java tools vendors, including Borland Software, Oracle, and SAP.
One company that has not joined Eclipse is Sun Microsystems, which has viewed the project as a competitive threat to its own NetBeans open source development framework. In fact, Sun has even characterized the project as a potential threat to Java's "write once, run anywhere" philosophy, because Eclipse developers use a non-standard tool called SWT (Standard Widget Toolkit) to build the graphical components of their Java applications.
Work is underway to create a technical bridge between SWT and Java's standard AWT (Abstract Windowing Toolkit) and Swing graphics tools, and Sun officials this week confirmed that their company is considering a membership in Eclipse. However, it seems that at least one sticking point remains: the project's name.
"We've always been irritated by the name Eclipse," said a Sun spokewoman. "Sun probably won't join a group named so obviously as a competitive gesture."
McGaughey declined to comment on the details of any negotiations with Sun, except to say that the project had extended an invitation for Sun to join. But an Eclipse name change could be in the works, according to one industry analyst.
"The very name of the group -- as in eclipse of the Sun -- has been a touchy point," said Mike Blechar, a vice president of research development at Gartner Inc. "They may look to change the name of the group heading forward."
One Eclipse member was willing to consider a name change if it would bring Sun on board. "I think the name Eclipse isn't as important as the unification of the industry around development tools," said Ted Farrell, Oracle's director of strategy. "That's the end goal. It's not someone having control of a name."
IBM referred questions about Eclipse to McGaughey.