It should be an interesting conference. For one thing, Michael Tiemann, founder of Cygnus and the first geek businessman to make money from open source, who these days wears Red Hat's CTO hat, is one of the keynote speakers. For another, there has been plenty of pre-conference buzz about IBM's decision to set Eclipse free to operate as an independent entity. And if that wasn't enough to get things rolling, last Friday's letter from Sun Microsystems to Eclipse.org has put it over the top.
If you're not familiar with Eclipse, here is a quote taken from the Eclipse.org website: "Eclipse is a kind of universal tool platform - an open extensible IDE for anything and nothing in particular." An IDE for everything and nothing in particular? How could that cause such a stir in the industry?
Actually, there is more to Eclipse.org than just the IDE (also called Eclipse). There is an Eclipse Tools Project, which provide tools for the IDE. And the Eclipse Technology Project, which provides research, incubators, and education for developers interested in participating. And finally, the Eclipse Web Tools Platform Project, which aims to provide frameworks and services to support any web application server which supports J2EE.
And there is more to the story than just the technology. What interests me most about Eclipse.org is that it is a consortium of proprietary software and hardware firms who are developing a world-class, cross-platform, open source development environment. It's a bizarre twist to the Guess Who's Coming to Dinner story line. In this surprise scenario, we find firms like IBM, Borland, Merant, Red Hat, SUSE, Intel, Micro Focus, Hitachi, and several others willingly sitting down and collaborating on a free/open source project to everyone's benefit. A few years ago, the chances of such a thing happening - global corporations embracing free software because it makes sense - would have been highly unlikely.
How open? Eclipse is licensed under the Common Public License. According to the Free Software Foundation, the Common Public License qualifies as "free software." But it is not GPL compatible because of patent requirements. The FSF says "For example, it requires certain patent licenses be given that the GPL does not require. (We don't think those patent license requirements are inherently a bad idea, but nonetheless they are incompatible with the GNU GPL.)"
Of course Microsoft doesn't belong to Eclipse.org. That's no surprise. They have never played well with others. Sun Microsystems doesn't belong either, for the reasons they give in their letter to the Eclipse community made public last week.
Just because neither belongs to Eclipse doesn't mean they're not keeping a close eye on the group as it begins to walk independently of IBM control. Microsoft's concern is to figure out how to draw developers away from Java to .Net. Sun's concern is to make sure that doesn't happen. Stay tuned. It should be an interesting week at the Disneyland Hotel.