Eclipse: The billion-dollar baby?

Eclipse's Milinkovich talks up the Eclipse ecosystem

The Eclipse Foundation’s Eclipse World 2006 made its way to Cambridge, Mass., in early September, with foundation executives touting the success of the open source application development project in attracting developer interest and support from big-name players such as IBM. InfoWorld Editor at Large Paul Krill caught up with The foundation’s Executive Director Mike Milinkovich to talk about the organization’s accomplishments, competition with Microsoft and Sun, respecting Java and the road ahead.

InfoWorld: How much money would you estimate is being generated by Eclipse-based software, or is the main attraction to Eclipse still that it’s all free?

Mike Milinkovich: I wish we actually had good numbers on trying to estimate the size of the Eclipse ecosystem. I’m quite confident that it’s in the billion-dollar range and probably more, but we just don’t have the hard numbers.

But what you said about the attraction to Eclipse being free -- the economics of the Eclipse model is a little bit different than that, because the Eclipse community as a whole is almost uniquely focused on enabling a commercially profitable ecosystem around the free platform. So yes, we do provide open source tools and frameworks from Eclipse, and those are provided for free. But we definitely are motivated across the Eclipse ecosystem to see people and companies make money from the Eclipse platform.

IW: I just met with a company that’s basing its technology on Eclipse, and it has no salespeople. Do you see that as a trend where software companies, particularly open source software companies, don’t have salespeople because they don’t see the need?

MM: Historically enterprise software has been sold through [a] direct salesforce channel. I do believe over time, we’re starting to see success in open source software products in areas which have been traditionally the realm of the direct sales force. I’m thinking of things like Sugar CRM and Compiere  [ERP] and open source products like this. Those environments or those products have very, very low cost of sales, so as customers get more used to that, I think that over time, yeah, there are going to be fewer and fewer software salesmen.

IW: Is anything going on as far as Sun joining Eclipse or merging NetBeans and Eclipse?

MM: Nope, absolutely not. They’ve made it pretty clear that they’re not really interested in doing anything other than continuing to push their NetBean strategy.

IW: What do you think of their being two kind of rival camps? Is it good for competition?

MM: Well we’re certainly not shy of competition, and frankly we’re winning.

IW: Sun seems  to say differently.

MM: Oh, good for them. I’ve got the numbers, they don’t.

IW: Who do you see as your main rival, NetBeans or Windows .Net?

MM: We clearly and have always felt that Eclipse is about enabling competition with Microsoft.

IW: And how have you fared there?

MM: Actually, we started five years ago, and I would say that starting from zero the growth of Eclipse over the past five years has been absolutely phenomenal.

IW: Is Eclipse de-emphasizing Java and refocusing on some of the other languages that we talked about? Some of the scripting languages as well as .Net?

MM: I wouldn’t say we’re de-emphasizing Java. As Eclipse is growing and there’s more projects joining the folds, there’s more resources to take on more languages and more platforms. Now almost every Eclipse project writes its code in Java. So we’re clearly heavy users of Java. But in terms of Java being the only platform or language that we support within Eclipse, that’s never been the vision for Eclipse. It’s always been about supporting as many languages and as many platforms as we can find people willing to work on projects for.

IW: Where is Eclipse headed and what new technologies are on the horizon?

MM: A couple of things come to mind. First is continued growth and adoption around our Rich Client Platform (RCP). More support for multiple languages. Within Eclipse, in the next quarter we’re planning on having the first release from the PHP IDE project, which we think is really exciting. Because PHP is a really important language both for enterprise development, but Web development in general, and having Eclipse tooling available for PHP is something that we’re pretty excited about.