Eclipse chief talks up projects, awaits Sun and Microsoft

Mike Milinkovich cites advances in open source development technologies

The Eclipse Foundation for open source tools held its technical conference, EclipseCon 2005, in Burlingame, Calif., the week of Feb. 28. Stressing its momentum, the organization touted participation frrm vendors such as BEA Systems, Borland Socqftware, Computer Associates International, and Sybase. Mike Milinkovich, a former Oracle vice president of technical services, became the first executive director of the independent foundation when Eclipse was spun out of IBM last year. InfoWorld Editor at Large Paul Krill discussed Eclipse goings-on and impacts with Milinkovich.

InfoWorld: To what does Eclipse attribute the 50 million-plus downloads of your technology, and are Eclipse users primarily corporate developers, technologists, researchers, or representatives from different software and technology companies? I see a lot of people here from technology vendors.

Milinkovich: The No. 1 reason why there’s been 50 million downloads is because the software is really good. I just came from [visiting] Borland and one of the things that they said that really tipped the balance and made them want to become a strategic developer at Eclipse was the simple fact that the software is really good. The architecture is really good. I think that’s a real testament to the people that have been building Eclipse since Day 1. There’s no way we would be getting the volume of interest, participation and downloads if it wasn’t for the fact that what Eclipse is bringing is great technology.

Now, in terms of who’s downloading that, and there’s two parts to that question; there’s who’s downloading it, and then you also made a comment about the people that are at the show. I don’t necessarily think that the people that are at the show are a reflection of the entire Eclipse ecosystem. In terms of who’s downloading it, for us to hit 50 million download requests, clearly there has to be a lot of use of Eclipse in enterprise development.

I was giving a keynote two weeks ago in Boston and I asked the crowd, “Who here is using Eclipse? And 75 percent of the crowd put their hands up. And then I said, “Who is using Eclipse in enterprise IT development?” And almost exactly the same number put their hand up. So we are absolutely certain that it’s got a great deal of usage in enterprise IT.

Now that said, this conference is not necessarily tailored for the enterprise IT user of Eclipse. It is primarily tailored for our committers and our members and for the enterprise -- people from the enterprise IT world who want a really deep-dive in the technology. So it’s not necessarily reflective of the entire population.

InfoWorld: How does Eclipse assert independence from IBM, and what kind of influence does IBM still have over the Eclipse organization?

Milinkovich: We are independent. There’s no assertion required.

InfoWorld: What kind of messages do you have for holdouts Sun and Microsoft?

Milinkovich: It’s really simple. The door is open, and if they would like to come and participate at Eclipse, we’d be thrilled to have them.

InfoWorld: Why do you think they’ve been holding out?

Milinkovich: They have their own business reasons. Sun is committed to their NetBeans platform. Microsoft is still trying to figure out what its response to open source in general should be. So there are business restraints in play that they have to [consider]. But you know, they will join when it makes sense for them, and that’s fine.

InfoWorld: You mentioned NetBeans. How do you feel about NetBeans, and do you think that it could become part of Eclipse?

Milinkovich: How do I feel about NetBeans? I think there are some really smart guys who are working on NetBeans and they’ve built some great software. But could they become part of Eclipse? There are definitely some pieces of NetBeans that I could see migrating to Eclipse, but it’s not something we’ve ever really talked about so I don’t have a lot of detailed information on what could or could not be useful at Eclipse.

InfoWorld: How do people make money off open source? Through service and support? As a teaser to commercial products? There was a session last night with panelists talking about this issue and one of the panelists, a venture capitalist, questioned how you can have a large company based on open source. How do you make money on open source if you’re giving the stuff away?

Milinkovich: First and foremost, I’ve got to reiterate, the Eclipse Foundation is not-for-profit. The Eclipse Foundation itself is not here to make money on open source. However, the member companies of the Eclipse Foundation are supporting Eclipse with the intent that they are going to make money on the products that they build on top of Eclipse.

The model that we have at Eclipse is that what we are trying to do is build an open universal development platform. Commercial interests can build products on top of [Eclipse] and sell those products for commercial gain. What we are doing is enabling commercial products. They’re making money the old fashioned way: They’re selling software products and supporting them and providing services around them.

InfoWorld: I’m going to mention a bunch of Eclipse projects and would like you to provide a few words on what these are about and what will be impact. The first is the Parallel Tools project.

Milinkovich: The Eclipse Parallel Tools Platform project is a brand new project, and it’s being led by a gentleman from Los Alamos National Laboratories. Parallel computing is used in scientific research and various aspects of supercomputing. What [Eclipse developers] noticed was that most of the vendors that are selling tools in this area are quite small. There’s not a lot of standards in the area and that there’s not a lot of interoperability between the various tools in this area. So what their hope with the parallel development platform is that they’re going to enable a platform that these vendors, who are in the parallel computing space, can build their products on top of and help promote interoperability between the products that they’re providing.

InfoWorld: Talk about Business Intelligence and Reporting Tools (BIRT).

Milinkovich: BIRT is about, as the name would suggest, BI and reporting. The main focus right now is on building out enterprise reporting capabilities. [Eclipse] just shipped the first developer release and so we’re starting to get good feedback and good community development with that. So, the goal there is to enable better reporting. It’s primarily focused on being able to support embedded reporting capabilities within Java applications.

When it comes to reporting in Java, the tools are very close to non-existent. Basically, if you’re a Java developer and you’re writing reports, you’re basically hand-coding them, probably in JSP or something like that. I was using report writers as a developer back in the ‘80’s. They’ve been around for a long time. There hasn’t been one that’s had good market share and good adoption in the Java space and that’s what [we’re] really trying to do with BIRT.

InfoWorld: When is that going to be ready?

Milinkovich: A release is currently scheduled for May of this year but there’s code available out there. There’s a developer release out now. People can download it and [kick the tires] on it today.

InfoWorld: What about Rich Client Platform (RCP)?

Milinkovich: We shipped [RCP 3.0] out last year and what RCP enables is the ability to create a rich client user experience with multi-platform capability. RCP allows you to build very rich applications which can be deployed on Windows, Linux, Mac, Unix. Pretty much every platform you support, you can deploy. And we see RCP as having potential to be a very important part of future enterprise application architectures.

If you’re in the enterprise space, right now you basically have a choice between the old client/server model, where your user is like the user-interface, but your IT managers have a really hard time maintaining the deployments once they go out the door. Once you’ve rolled out a client-server application on say, 10,000 machines, if you have to fix a bug, it’s extremely expensive to do that.

The other choice that you have right now is a Web-based user interface, where it’s really easy to deploy, but user interfaces are not very friendly, compared to what you can do with a rich client user interface. They’re pretty darn mediocre. We’re trying with the RCP to bridge that and provide something that gives enterprise IT managers the best of both worlds.

[We are trying to enable a] rich user experience that runs on multiple platforms for the end-users, with the ability to manage what’s being deployed on the end user’s desktop from a central location, [meaning] server-based management of which client applications. [The technology’s] potential is huge.

InfoWorld: Talk about the Graphical Editor Framework (GEF) project.

Milinkovich: GEF is a tool used to build graphical user interfaces. Primarily, it wouldn’t typically be used by an enterprise IT developer. It’s primarily being picked up and used by ISVs to construct software products. And it’s actually being used in multiple open source projects as well. Rational is building modeling tools with GEF, as one example. So that’s where you see that being used.

InfoWorld: What about Eclipse Communication Framework (ECF)?

Milinkovich: Eclipse Communication Framework is one of our incubator projects. And some great are guys leading that. Scott Lewis, who actually just joined onboard, is the leader of that project. What we’re trying to do with ECF is enable peer-to-peer communications between developers while they’re working on projects, and we’re hoping that it will become a platform that we can use for building better collaborative tools down the road.

InfoWorld: How long has that project been going on?

Milinkovich: It got started in the fall. It’s relatively new.

InfoWorld: Web Tools Platform project?

Milinkovich: Web Tools Platform is quite a large project. It started back in June of last year and what we’re tackling with Web tools is the ability to build Web applications. When we say Web applications, we mean Web standards-style applications: HTML, XML, Web services. The ability to write [and] deploy servlets, JSPs, EJBs, basically all of your standard J2EE artifacts. So, it’s a really important project for Eclipse and we’re really happy that BEA has come to Eclipse to support it.

Tim Wagner from BEA is now co-leader of the Web Tools Project and BEA is going to be contributing resources to the project. So, one of the great things about Web Tools is if you look at the people that are working on it, [it has] BEA, IBM, JBoss, and ObjectWeb. We have great commercial and open source support for Web Tools as the tooling platform for J2EE and for Web development.

InfoWorld: Are there any other projects you wanted to bring up that I haven’t just mentioned?

Milinkovich. You didn’t talk about Test & Performance Tools Platform Project. It’s led by Intel. The major participants include IBM, Scapa Technologies, Compuware, and Computer Associates. So, it’s another great example of a project that has broad support in terms of both development, and all of these companies are planning on building commercial products on top of it.

What Test & Performance does is it’s a platform for building, testing, and profiling and monitoring tools on top of it. We do provide some exemplary tools with it, but it’s primarily focused on being a good platform [so] that other people can build on top of it. With Computer Associates’ recent announcement of [becoming] an Eclipse Strategic Developer, we’re expecting that they’re going to be deepening their participation in the project. They’re already leading one of the projects under Test & Performance.

InfoWorld: Computer Associates is doing a systems management project within Eclipse, right?

Milinkovich: That’s just going through the proposal phase. We haven’t even gotten the details yet, so that’s their statement of intent at this point.

InfoWorld: What goals do you have for Eclipse in the future? You mentioned yesterday during the press conference there was talk about being an applications framework for health records and the other verticals. So, where do you see Eclipse headed in two years, five years down the road?

Milinkovich: Well, the first thing that we’re focused on is completing support within Eclipse for the entire software development lifecycle. [We have] the recent announcements of Borland joining. If they’re going to be proposing another project in the modeling space and with Computer Associates proposing a project in systems management space, we’re well on our way to completing that vision of covering the entire lifecycle. We still have lots of gaps that we can fill, so there’s going to be work going on in that area for a while. So, that’s the first area.

The second area is Eclipse is generally well known as a Java-centric project or community, but actually if you take a look at our membership or even take a look at the companies that are on our Board, Eclipse is also very involved in embedded [development]. You’re going to see more projects and more participation in the embedded space at Eclipse, and we’re going to very focused on providing a complete set of embedded tools from within the first open source projects.

InfoWorld: What about in the Microsoft development space? I think there’s even a presentation about Visual Studio here and how Eclipse relates to it.

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