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Geeks speak at Eclipse conference

Collaborative software design and the continued success of open source development became the rallying cries at EclipseCon 2006.

Santa Clara - Doing his best to bust the myth of the introverted geek pounding out code in a darkened room, Ward Cunningham, self-described programmer and infectiously social extrovert, took the stage yesterday at EclipseCon 2006.

Trust me. I am not a bozo. I am worth your time
Ward Cunningham
Director of Committer Community DevelopmentEclipse Foundation

He's now director of committer community development for the Eclipse Foundation and perhaps most famous for inventing one of the hottest collaborative tools on the Web, the Wiki. Since Eclipse development is done by teams of programmers working without the project management overseers usually found in private enterprise, all the projects in Eclipse require a commitment to being part of a community working in collaboration.

"What we produce is ideas, which some people define as intellectual property," Cunningham told his programmer audience. "It's done through collaboration based on a community."

In the absence of a manager who can crack the whip over reluctant workers, the Eclipse Way, as it's known, requires one thing that Cunningham put into a single word: Collaboration.

" 'Collaboration' is a special word," he told his audience. "We're forming a relationship where I'm going to do things for you that you don't expect, because it's based on trust, like a good marriage."

He even gave the 1,500 attendees, who were mostly programmers, his Collaborators Pledge: "Trust me. I am not a bozo. I am worth your time."

While this may sound a little "touchy feely," Cunningham insists that collaboration among trusting programmers is the only way to get huge software projects done. It's just not possible for a single geek in a broom closet to write millions of lines of code. Even in the private sector, he said, the value of collaboration is being recognized.

"When you deal with something as complicated as software, you really can't know everything that's going to happen," he said, explaining why you have to be part of a team. After recalling his early days in programming in the 1960s, when sharing code meant giving another programmer a printout that had to be input by hand into another machine, he now sees global teams sharing successful scripts in wikis and blogs.

Speaking on behalf of another collaborative and volunteer software development organization, Greg Stein, chairman of the Apache Software Foundation, told the audience at his morning keynote that the Eclipse Way is based largely on its founders' studying the Apache Way.

The way of large open source software project development represents the future as Stein sees it.

"We're currently planning for the next 50 years," said Stein, who along with his role with Apache is also an engineering manager at Google, working on their open source efforts.

Long before 2056, he expects to see software ranging from Web servers to desktop applications move to the free open source model that Apache has pioneered. He insists that the Apache way will ultimately win the debate over whether software should be free or not, which began around the time Bill Gates dropped out of Harvard. If Stein is correct in his prognostications, Gates will have won the battle for the desktop but will lose the war.

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Of course, unlike Microsoft, Apache is a charity run by an all-volunteer army of programmers and supporters.

Stein didn't go so far as to say all software developers and vendors will work in a nonprofit environment. One of his models for the future is the way Red Hat Inc. operates now, making money selling networked maintenance and service for Linux.

In the Apache version of the world of tomorrow, software will be available over the Web, but users will pay a services vendor to manage such things as security and upgrades so the user doesn't have to worry about things like downloading the current version or installing a patch.

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