Time for Sun to Join the Eclipse Empire?


The Eclipse project seems to have begun as an unkind attempt by IBM to “eclipse” Sun's NetBeans IDE for Java. But thanks to IBM's generosity and sagacity, Eclipse went beyond these rather petty beginnings, becoming first open source and then truly free in the sense that it was no longer directed by its creator. This has allowed the project to blossom in an extraordinary way, as shown by the latest announcement:

The Eclipse Foundation today announced a new initiative to develop and promote open source runtime technology based on Equinox, a lightweight OSGi compliant runtime. While Eclipse is well known for its widely used development tools, this initiative establishes a community of Eclipse open source projects focused on runtime technology that provides a more flexible approach to building and deploying software on mobile, desktop and server environments.

The move to create a community around Equinox is a logical progression for Eclipse. Equinox, the core runtime platform for Eclipse, has been deployed on millions of software developers’ desktops, has enabled an ecosystem of thousands of Eclipse plug-ins and is the base of hundreds of Eclipse Rich Client Platform (RCP) based applications. Recently, the community has also used Equinox as the server platform for Ajax applications, SOA, enterprise client/server applications and others. Therefore, this new initiative has been started to foster and promote Equinox as a platform for building and deploying general purpose software products and applications.

What's striking here is how far Eclipse has moved from its starting point On some metrics Eclipse is arguably the biggest unified open source project out there, offering several important frameworks that allow a constant expansion of its activity into new domains. Contrast this with Sun's NetBeans: although a flourishing and popular project, it has stayed close to its origins, and is now dwarfed by the Eclipse behemoth.

In the past, Sun has always said that it is reluctant to join Eclipse because it wants to concentrate on its own NetBeans. That's laudable and understandable, but surely the time has come to recognise that the global benefits of joining with others to support the greater Eclipse empire outweigh any possible local damage to NetBeans. Moreover, there is a long and honourable tradition in open source of supporting more than one solution to a problem, so there is no reason why NetBeans shouldn't continue as an alternative to some elements of Eclipse. How about it, Sun?