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Eclipse's Milinkovich on SOA, Ajax and integration

Mike Milinkovich is the executive director of Eclipse Foundation. He sat down with to talk about the future of Eclipse, as well as SOA and Ajax, at the sold-out EclipseCon 2006 in Santa Clara, Calif.

Each year it seems this conference is getting larger and larger. Does that surprise you at all, or did you anticipate it would draw all these grass-roots coders?
Certainly we were not expecting to sell out this year. As a matter of fact, I can remember when we were first selecting this place [the Santa Clara Convention Center], Bjorn [Freeman-Benson, technical director of open source process and infrastructure for the Eclipse Foundation] had a conversation where he said: "We'll never sell this one out." Because we did sell out last year and it was a great conference. Part of the buzz of a conference is it's crowded and there's lots of people. You're running into people all the time. That's part of the fun of going to a conference. And we never thought that we would sell this place out. So yes, we were definitely surprised. We sold out four hotels. Looking forward to the next year or 18 months, what will we be seeing from Eclipse?
A couple of key things, one is Rich Client Platform (RCP), a technology we think over the next couple of years is going to become increasingly important in the industry. We think it's a great technology for building rich client applications, and it offers both ISV and enterprise IT managers the ability to build, deploy and manage desktop applications that run outside of the browser but with a high degree of manageability in a multi-platform technology. We see that over the next couple of years, Microsoft is going to be spending half-a-billion dollars in convincing people that it's time to switch off the Win32 APIs, and we think RCP should be on the evaluation list of virtually every organization that's thinking of doing that. Where's RCP now?
It's a mature technology. It's the same technology that we've been building the IDE on since day one. What happened was a couple of years ago it was decided to split this out as its own separate components. It was made available in 3.0, which shipped in 2004 as Rich Client Platform as a separate component. So it's been around for a number of years. We're shipping another version this June, 3.2. So it's stable. It's mature. And it's the same technology that we're building Eclipse itself on. I would argue that IDEs are one of the most complicated rich client applications you can build. So it certainly shows that it can scale to very complicated user interfaces.

The value proposition for ISVs and enterprise IT is that you get portability across multiple platforms. One of the interesting things about that is it's not just about being on Mac, Linux and Windows. It also could be for many ISVs getting to Vista but also supporting Windows XP and Windows 2000. So it's the multi-platform now, not just becoming Microsoft versus the others. Microsoft is creating a situation where Microsoft itself is multiple platforms that ISVs have to be concerned about. RCP gets you across those different dimensions.

What else can we look forward to?
We're continuing to invest in things like ALM and SOA. Those are new projects. SOA again is going to take some time to evolve and mature. It's certainly an area where we want to see more projects.

Also, I think it's important to remember that we are very interested in the success of our commercial ecosystem. It's not just about the projects we build at Eclipse, it's all the interesting and innovative products that get built on it as well. We expect to see more and more of those [too].

How do you see Ajax fitting into Eclipse? And is it really something that does fit into Eclipse?
Yes and yes. There's one obvious way that Eclipse fits into Ajax, which is tooling. We want to provide an Eclipse open source tooling platform for many different languages and platforms, and the popularity of Ajax makes that an obvious one. Within the rich Internet application space at Eclipse we're doing the tooling for Lazlo, and Adobe's Flex 2.0 is being built on Eclipse as well. So in terms of tooling for rich Internet applications, including Ajax and Flash, Eclipse is the clear leader. Do you have other Ajax-related projects?
In terms of providing frameworks and client-side runtimes for Ajax, we do have a new proposal for a project called RAP, Rich Ajax Platform from Innoopract, so that's getting us more into an Ajax framework. What it's basically bringing to Ajax, which to the best of my knowledge is not there today, is the rich component model and extensibility model that you have with plug-ins, bringing those notions to Ajax. I think that's a really powerful idea. As Ajax scales, and larger projects are being taken into Ajax, I think those ideas are going to be important.
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What are the highlights at Eclipse since the 2005 conference?
We view last year as a pivotal point in time for Eclipse because roughly a year ago we had six new strategic members step up and join Eclipse. BEA, Borland, Sybase, Computer Associates, Scapa, and Wind River. And I think that was the point in time where it became very clear to the industry that the existence of Eclipse as a vendor-controlled institution, a place where they could come and participate on a level playing field in open source development, really became completely clear. And since then we've seen a real increase in the number of projects that we've had at Eclipse and the diversity of the participation in Eclipse. We had more than 200 committers join Eclipse projects in the past year; we're now over 60 projects at Eclipse. So it's just a steady trend in growth. What other companies of note are leading Eclipse projects?
Nokia is leading our Mobile Java Tools Initiative and IONA is leading our SOA Tools platform, so both of those companies are making a large investment in Eclipse. And one of the really interesting things about Nokia is they are very explicitly on a path of using Eclipse for both their Java tools and their C and C++ tools. So Forum Nokia, which is their development portal, has something in the order of two million registered users, and the tools that community is going to be delivered from here on out are going to be based on Eclipse.

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