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Milinkovich on Eclipse 3.1, open source development

Mike Milinkovich is executive director of the Eclipse Foundation Inc., a not-for-profit corporation supporting the Eclipse open source community and commercial ecosystem. In this interview, conducted at JavaOne 2005, Milinkovich highlights some of the new features in the Eclipse 3.1 development platform, including Web services support in the Web tools project. He also discusses the impact Eclipse is having on the tooling market, dispels misconceptions around open source culture and describes the profile of a typical Eclipse project committer.

Eclipse announced its 3.1 development platform during the week of JavaOne. There were also announcements around the plug-in development environment and the Rich Client Platform. Can you describe some of the new features?
The major news there is support for J2SE [Java 2 Standard Edition] 5. A lot of work has gone into performance improvements as well. The other projects that are shipping are Web tools, which are going to provide new tools for Eclipse for J2EE [Java 2 Enterprise Edition] application development, and Web standard tools, which include Web services. We also have our testing and performance and BI and reporting tools, plus a number of other projects as well.

The Rich Client Platform we shipped in the [Eclipse] 3.0 time frame exactly one year ago. It provides the ability to build multi-platform rich client applications, which you can deploy and manage using Eclipse. Part of its momentum is due to the number of interesting applications being built around it. One example is Azureus, which is the No. 1 download from SourceForge.

Eclipse is more or less shipping a great number of projects together and we're really hitting our stride by shipping a universal development platform that spans the software development lifecycle, all the way from modeling to application monitoring.

Version 0.7 of the Web tools project is shipping with Eclipse 3.1. What are some of the new tools available here for developers building Web services?
The Web tools project 0.7 is going to ship tools to be able to build, deploy and test Web services. Part of the project is the Web services validation tool, which is one of two reference implementations of the WS-I Basic Profile, the other one being Microsoft's. There's a SOAP monitor so you can do tracing of the SOAP packets going back and forth.

Basically, we're making sure we do vanilla standard implementation all the way through. Since we're not a vendor, we have no interest in vendor-specific hooks, so we're very careful to be spec compliant and standards compliant in the tooling that we're constructing.

Eclipse seems to be garnering widespread support over commercial tools for development, but many organizations are still hesitant to switch over. Do you think there are still reservations about the quality of open source products?
Anybody who thinks that open source is some anarchistic process where anybody can put in code, that's not the way it really works. I would say that in many ways open source development is more rigorous than most commercial or IT development in the sense that it is a very well-defined process in terms of who has rights to commit code to a project. We have lots of people who contribute code to Eclipse through bug reports or other avenues, but the list of committers who decide what code goes in is relatively small.

There's this notion that open source developers are anti-commerce and work out of their mother's basement. Can you describe the profile of a typical Eclipse project committer?
Over 90% of the committers on Eclipse projects are full-time paid employees of member companies. Eclipse as a community follows very strict open source rules of engagement. A lot of the other projects out there are not that different from Eclipse. The difference is that we don't give them an Eclipse [e-mail] address: it's a BEA address or an SAP address or whatever. But if you look through a lot of the open source projects out there, a lot of the committers in general are full-time employees. So, the typical profile of an Eclipse committer is a software developer that works for a software products company.

How is Eclipse changing the dynamics of the tooling market?
What's happening in the market is that you're seeing the emergence of two tools ecosystems. One is Microsoft's and the other is Eclipse's. Additionally, there are lots of tools that are being built on Eclipse that are not Java. In addition to the Java tools, you can see that Borland's Together [Control] Center is built with Eclipse and, of course, the Rational tools are built on Eclipse. So Eclipse is very strong in modeling. You can also see that Eclipse is very strong in embedded C or C++ development. We're trying to build a tooling platform that a large number of vendors can coalesce around. The advantage to developers is that you get a platform with investment being shared by many companies. That means that lots of cool technology is being based on Eclipse.

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Do you think Microsoft might one day lead an Eclipse project?
I don't rule it out. We're platform agnostic. We're interested in building tools for virtually any platform. I think it would be really cool if somebody came and started a C+ or a C# project at Eclipse. All of the J2EE vendors, except one [Sun Microsystems], are already on Eclipse.

Developers typically use Eclipse for writing platform-specific code. What kind of support does Eclipse provide for business processes or SOA development?
The short answer is that there's not a lot there today, but I think the interesting piece is where it's going in the future. There's a number of different areas where there are new projects getting started at Eclipse. The new MDDI [Model-Driven Development Integration] project focusing on model-driven development I think is very interesting. It's not final yet, but we are working with a company to come forward with a proposal for a SOA project at Eclipse. In terms of what you can download from Eclipse today, it's relatively limited, but there's definitely new investment coming to those areas.

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