January 31, 2004

What's really behind Eclipse changeover?

Author: Chris Preimesberger

So, IBM is soon to announce that it's setting Eclipse free, and Sun -- gatekeeper of the Java franchise and the company squarely in the "shadow" of the Eclipse -- is making the first move to reach out and touch somebody as a result. And hopefully, woo the independent Eclipse folks back into the overall Java community. No surprises there. (See entire text of Sun's open letter to Eclipse community here.)

Chris Preimesberger

Sun has been smarting since Eclipse (its title a well-known, play-on-words slap at Sun) was founded by a $40 million grant from IBM in 2001. IBM had the audacity to start its own open source tools community, turning its back on the slow-moving, highly political, and inefficient Java Community Process. Sun now recognizes the power Eclipse is quickly building within the open source community, while its own JCP continues to have issues (membership not happy with Sun licensing, slow implementations, apparent favoritism toward large corporations). Sun sees its chance to be the good guy, make peace, and keep the spin positive, so this letter is the result of that PR decision.

Is this sincere outreach to the open source Eclipse community ("Let's unify, not fragment, Java"), or a PR stunt aimed at a commercial purpose? Could be both. Make your own judgment on the content and tone of the letter.

Interesting that IBM isn't mentioned until deep into the letter, and only then because it is an inescapable fact that most of the Eclipse staffers are employed by Big Blue. IBM, despite being a rather large and important Java licensee (having built its WebSphere servers on J2EE), has been a dirty acronym on the Sun campus for years. Talk about an IT love-hate relationship!

Forgive us our sins if we're a little suspicious about this whole turn of events -- from both IBM and Sun standpoints. What is IBM's real motivation in letting the Eclipse spin off? Big Blue, on the surface, doesn't gain much in the deal; in fact, it loses a whole lot of power. There's got to be something else going on here. Of course, with an influx of new open source-type developers devoted to Java, Sun potentially could make millions of new dollars for itself. Not a bad result for a company which has been notoriously short of revenue for the last couple of years.

It appears that Sun, finally, is starting to come off the fence about open source in general. It has to. But it's just taken so long for the company to take this road, when the writing's been on the proverbial wall for years. That lack of foresight into a rather obvious strategy is bothersome -- and may have been a central reason for the company's stock devaluation during the past two years.

Bottom line: Do you believe that Sun is really being magnanimous about embracing open source for the betterment of the overall development community, or is it a smokescreen strategy to help repair its PR/marketing problems and protect its proprietary products and services?


  • Java
Click Here!