Staff Writer, CNET News.com
A little more than a year ago, detractors painted the Eclipse open-source project as nothing more than a ploy by IBM to sell its own software. Today, by most accounts, it's the center of innovation in the Java tools industry.
On Monday, a sold-out EclipseCon conference will open and, unlike last year's inaugural meeting, IBM technical gurus will not be the center of attention.
Instead, the open-source foundation will fete its newest board members—IBM rivals BEA Systems, Sybase and Borland International—and detail the expanding list of development-related projects under Eclipse's purview.
"Eclipse is definitely the dominant Java tools platform," said Thomas Murphy, an analyst at the Meta Group. "And increasingly, the Eclipse organization will be pushing this message of a general-purpose platform."
IBM founded the Eclipse consortium in November 2001 with $40 million in seed money and a substantial donation in code. Today, the group has 91 members, including most of the largest software companies. And it produces what is now the most popular Java development tool, according to Evans Data.
Eclipse became an independent nonprofit foundation, spun off from IBM, one year ago. That independence helped fuel its momentum, as vendors such as BEA, which once stayed clear of Eclipse, began jumping on board.
In effect, Eclipse has managed to unify the great majority of Java providers—with the notable exception of Sun Microsystems, and limited participation from Oracle—something that years of industrywide standardization efforts never did.
"It's over," said Bob Bickel, vice president of corporate strategy at open-source Java company JBoss, referring to competition in the Java tools industry.
"Eclipse has just reached that tipping-point critical mass. There's the economic interest among all the vendors to drop their costs of creating new toolsets," he said.Open source in suits' clothing
Having a common development-tool technology is vital in Java vendors' shared fight against Microsoft. Winning over developers has been a long-standing battle between the two camps, because programmers can influence the choice of pricier, back-end software for running business applications.
The Eclipse software in some ways mimics what Microsoft has with its flagship development product, Visual Studio.