So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

September 17, 2012 | 4 min Read

Current and future viability of Eclipse

No, this is not another farewell. We have had too many of them over the last few years. Following the recent discussion [1][2][3] about Eclipse Juno one can get the impression that Eclipse is going to be “demolished” anytime soon to make space for a new hyperspace bypass. Reality is, there is no new hyperspace bypass. Not even a plan for one*. Eclipse is the market leading IDE, and receives millions of downloads with a trend going up. The dolphins can stay another decade. But how is it possible that a) the internal community is shrinking b) people are getting criticized for their open source work?

Open Source is not a business model in itself Historically the Eclipse Platform and the exemplary Java IDE has been built by IBM engineers. There was a clear business model for IBM, because the Eclipse platform serves as the foundation for 300+ tools that IBM is selling to its customers in one or another way. And the Java Developer tools demonstrated the “best practice” in using the platform. This has been working very nicely for the last decade. But something must have changed for IBM because they are putting less energy into Eclipse as a platform. That is nothing that we can or should blame them for, they are a commercial company and need to optimize their profit.

Eclipse describes itself always as an “ecosystem”, so why are there no other companies stepping up to close the gap IBM’s change in strategy is leaving? Because the ecosystem is not making money with the platform and the Java Developer tools. Millions of users are using the - good enough - tools that they can get for free. The ecosystem is making its money with extending Eclipse for various use cases and industries ranging from aviation to utility.

No more satisfaction Now some of the users of the free tools are less satisfied with Eclipse Juno. We could argue that we don’t care, because there is no claim for perfection attached to the free and open source tools. But that could start a downward spiral for Eclipse many community members seem to be afraid of.

Who is going to pay? Bottom line is: Some new people will have to pay if we want to put more work into core pieces of Eclipse again. The proposal to put a toll on the companies participating as strategic members is likely not going to work out - as described before they are not making their money with the free tools. But why shouldn’t the users that profit the most from the free tools pay a share for developing and maintaining them. Before you cry foul - “Eclipse is open source and needs to remain free for everyone” - let me explain where I think we should be heading.

There are hundreds of companies out there that have saved big bucks by switching from commercial tools to open source. From my point of view we should involve them in paying for the Eclipse platform and the Java IDE. But we have to offer something that you can’t get for free, otherwise they are not going to pay (there are a few notable exceptions of companies that strategically invested into the health of Eclipse). Paying for maintenance and support is an established Open Source Business Model and we will be giving it a try. With “we” I mean a group formed of the Eclipse Foundation and ecosystem companies that have agreed to start the “Long Term Support (LTS) Working Group”. Because Eclipse provides a really broad set of technologies no single company is able to support the entire breadth of Eclipse. The Eclipse Foundation will orchestrate LTS and provide the infrastructure, and companies of different size and different technology skills will provide the support. As a company you can get the “claim” that is missing from Open Source, and the resulting work will remain open source. Sounds like a “win-win” for everybody, doesn’t it? Expect to hear more about Eclipse LTS very soon.

* One could argue that JavaScript and the trend towards html is removing the necessity of an IDE. But if you look at the Tiobe Programming community index or Redmonks programming language rankings it is obvious that there are still a lot of people in need of an IDE. Unless you are a super geek you shouldn’t develop Java and C without a tool suite IMHO.

Resources: [1] Bug on Eclipse Juno Performance Issue [2] Mike Milinkovich on Eclipse Juno Performance [3] Andrey Loskutov on Eclipse Juno [4] - The Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy - quotes [5] - Eclipse LTS Charter [6] EclipseCon slides on Eclipse LTS [7] - Tiobe Programming Community Index [8] Redmonk Programming Language Rankings