IBM Supports Open-Source Developer Project, Sun Objects

This week IBM Corp. announced it is donating $40 million of software to a new Java-based open-source development platform, a move Sun Microsystems sees as a potential threat to the Java Community Process.

The platform, code-named Eclipse, is designed to link development tools from a variety of different vendors into a single operating environment.

Drew Engstrom, product line manager of Sun’s Forte for Java line of developer solutions, says Sun is confused by IBM’s participation in Eclipse. He says the project is a take-off of Sun’s NetBeans platform, a Java-based IDE Sun acquired in 1999 and rebranded to use as the basis of Forte for Java.

“[IBM] is forking off an existing open project that does a lot of the same things,” says Engstrom.

In addition, he says, “[IBM] is using some features that they have no intention of running through the JCP.” According to Engstrom, Eclipse is working with an alternative to Sun’s Abstract Window Toolkit, a JCP-approved class library that provides an application framework and graphical user interface routines for Java programmers.

“They’ve ridden Java’s popularity to their own benefit, and now they want to corrupt it by fragmenting it,” says Engstrom of IBM’s role in the Eclipse project. “It seems like a very self-serving strategy,” he says, “rather than working through the existing communities that are doing just fine.”

As far as IBM is concerned, Eclipse is not a threat to the JCP.

“Eclipse is absolutely complementary to Java and the J2EE platform,” says Scott Hebner, director of marketing for IBM’s WebSphere software line. Hebner says, while Eclipse will compete with Sun’s Forte for Java on implementations, it will only help to further propagate the Java 2 Enterprise Edition specification.

“This is doing for [developer] tools what Apache did for Web servers,” says Hebner.

“[Sun] has a tendency that they need to control everything,” he says.

Louis Columbus, a senior analyst with AMR Research, says he doesn’t see how Eclipse could be a threat to the JCP, Java or the development community. “It wouldn’t behoove IBM to go against the JCP,” says Columbus. “Eclipse is really just the propagation of another standard.”

Sun’s Engstrom believes Eclipse will even be hurtful to IBM’s own developer base, many of whom are using Visual Age for Java, a platform that will be replaced as IBM deploys a new set of WebSphere development tools on Eclipse. Columbus, on the other hand, says he sees Eclipse as a real positive for IBM and developers.

More than 150 software tool suppliers have already begun to evolve the 1.0 version of the Eclipse platform. Over 30 [tools suppliers] have made hard commitments to build tools that plug into Eclipse. And 1,200 individual developers have registered for the Eclipse open-source community, which was a private offering until IBM opened it up to the public this week.

“Right now developers have to choose between best-of-breed [tools] or a well integrated suite, ,” says Bernard Spang, program director of WebSphere Studio marketing. Eclipse, he says, is designed to enable a suite of tightly integrated best-of-breed tools.

Although Sun sees Eclipse as a threat to the JCP, IBM is touting it as an extension of its support for Linux. According to IBM, Eclipse is more than a framework or set of APIs; it’s open-source code that offers support for Web services, XML and J2EE. All Eclipse-based tools will run on both Linux and Windows, freeing developers from the task of porting Windows applications to Linux.

So far, IBM and CommerceQuest are the only two vendors to plug solutions into the Eclipse platform. “There are others that will be rolled out soon,” says Spang. “Some this year and more next year.”

IBM has configured its family of WebSphere application development tools for Windows and Linux to run on Eclipse. WebSphere Application Developer is electronically available now, and will be generally available on November 21. WebSphere Site Developer is available now as a preview, but won’t be generally available until the first quarter of 2002. And IBM is also making available WebSphere Enterprise Developer and WebSphere Home Page Builder on Eclipse. The Linux versions of the products will all be rolled out next year says Spang.

The WebSphere tools IBM is bringing to the Eclipse project support Web services standards and protocols. And according to Andrew Weiss, CTO of Eclipse founding member MERANT, tools with Web services capabilities will continue to be added to the platform. If anything about Eclipse should prompt Sun’s attention, says Weiss, it would be this growing support for Web services.

Weiss says without Web services, there really isn’t any overlap between Eclipse and J2EE. J2EE is a runtime and eclipse is a developer tool. However, he says, when Web services enter the mix, the lines become less clear, and there could be concern on Sun’s part whether Eclipse will support .NET or Sun ONE.

“The degree to which Eclipse ends up on one side or the other may cause some issues,” says Weiss. “But we don’t have any intention of choosing one side or the other.”

AMR’s Columbus believes the chances Eclipse will result in a major rift between IBM and Sun are marginal. “It would be very short-sighted for IBM to go in that direction given the kind of overhead the JCP has,” he says. “I think they’re smarter than that.”

About the Author

Matt Migliore is regular contributor to He focuses particularly on Microsoft .NET and other Web services technologies. Matt was the editor of several technology-related Web publications and electronic newsletters, including Web Services Report, ASP insights and MIDRANGE Systems.