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Quo Vadis Eclipse? Part One

Sebastian Meyen, Hartmut Schlosser
Quo-Vadis-Eclipse

A critical look at the Eclipse Ecosystem and the Eclipse Foundation.

The State of the Eclipse Ecosystem and the Eclipse
Foundation

The year is 2004. The previously IBM-dominated industrial
consortium for promoting the Eclipse platform has just been
transformed into the “vendor neutral” Eclipse Foundation. This
Foundation mainly aims to establish Eclipse as the worldwide
leading Java development platform. Today, this goal has been
largely achieved and the work of the Foundation has proven to be
very successful. Nevertheless, the Foundation is currently losing
member companies, and the community is debating possible reasons
for this trend. Has the Foundation made itself redundant by
achieving its original goal? Has it become a victim of its own
success? It is time for a closer look.

The Eclipse Foundation describes itself as a “not-for-profit”
organisation that aims “to advance the creation, evolution,
promotion, and support of the Eclipse Platform and to cultivate
both an open source community and an ecosystem of complementary
products, capabilities, and services.” A look at the organisational
structure of the Eclipse Foundation reveals that it consists of a
fairly manageable team that currently comprises of sixteen
permanent employees (see box: “Employees of the Eclipse
Foundation”)

According to the official quarterly report released in 2009, Q3 this group
generated a revenue of about $4.4 Million. Around 65% of this were
the regular membership fees paid by the enterprises that make up
the Foundation. Just under 30% came via the two Eclipse conferences
EclipseCon and Eclipse Summit Europe.

Financially, the Eclipse Foundation is thus primarily supported
by its member enterprises which must fulfill certain requirements,
depending on their membership type. (see box: “Types of
membership.”)

In return for the annually payable 25,000 to 500,000 US Dollars,
the strategic member enterprises automatically gain a place in the
highest committee of the Foundation: the Board of Directors. This
Board is responsible for all commercial and technological matters.
During annually held elections, the Board receives an additional
increase of representatives of the Solutions Members as well as the
Committer Members (see box: “Board of Directors.”)

Illustration 1: Lifecycle of an Eclipse project [4]

What the Eclipse Foundation Does

The Eclipse Foundation is not the only organisation of its kind.
Similar ‘Open Source Foundations’ exist in the form of Apache and
Linux. Microsoft’s Hosting Site ‘CodePlex’ is also directed by a
Foundation. What all these organisations have in common are
marketing and lobbying activities to promote the respective
technology, and the provision of an IT infrastructure, for example,
the hosting and maintenance needs of its subsequent Open Source
projects. In the case of the Eclipse Foundation, these take the
form of CVS/SVN code repositories (and maybe GIT in the near future, Bugzilla databases,
wikis, mailing lists, newsgroups and download pages.

However, what makes the Eclipse Foundation different from these
other organisations, is a strong focus on governance; i.e the
establishment of controlling processes, which navigate
participating projects in accordance with the Foundation’s mission.
The Eclipse Foundation’s mission, is mainly to build a reliable,
free, usable technology platform on the basis of which commercial
products can be developed.

This target manifests itself in the guidelines and instructions
of the Foundation, which are designed to address possible weak
points in Open Source software’s suitability for commercial
use.

  • The copyright has been clarified down to the last detail
    (Intellectual Property.)
  • Licensing under the Eclipse Public License (EPL). This means
    that the source code can be used for commercial extensions; not
    every project based on Eclipse source code has to be released under
    the EPL. (Unlike copyleft licenses, such as the GNU General Public
    License (GPL)).
  • All projects must adhere to the guidelines of the Eclipse
    development process (new projects must apply via proposal; be
    accompanied by mentors; be directed by a Project Management
    Committee (PMC); they must prove that the community is interested
    and that enough committers will participate in the project; must
    present various reports (Creation Review, Continuation Review,
    Release Review, Graduation Review;) must pass through different
    phases (Proposal, Incubation, Mature), etc. (see illustration
    1)
  • In addition, an annual collective release of coordinated
    Eclipse projects (Eclipse Release Train) is organised, where the
    projects are submitted to even stricter guidelines with regard to
    the release schedule and interactions with other projects (e.g.
    with exactly set dates for Milestone releases.)

Right from the beginning, the Eclipse Platform was used as a
starting point for a commercial market of products and services:
the Eclipse ecosystem. For a long time, the ‘Eclipse-based’ tag
signified a quality standard of Open Source Software and the
connection to a professional community of Open Source developers,
which seemed to have a bright future ahead.

Recession

What followed after the inception of the Eclipse Foundation in
2004, is common knowledge. Eclipse gained such a broad acceptance
as a Java development platform, that there cannot be a single Java
developer who has not loaded Eclipse on his desktop – at least
once, on a trial basis. (In 2008, Mike Milinkovich spoke of
4 million Eclipse users worldwide.) The Eclipse
Foundation could also boast a continual increase in membership,
after it was implemented. By 2005, the 100 membership mark had
already been crossed. And, in 2008, Eclipse Mania reached fever
pitch with 182 participating enterprises. 20 of these were
strategic members, and there were over 900 active committers from
more than 75 different organisations. Then, came an economic
recession of an almost unprecedented scale. The Eclipse Foundation
too, was confronted with a gradual decrease in membership,
enterprises withdrew from the Foundation, strategic members reduced
their engagement and downgraded their membership status.

If you look at the membership page of the Foundation today you’ll find 14
strategic companies, 3 so-called Enterprise Members, 71 Solutions
Members and 72 Associate Members. The former Strategic Members
Sybase, Zend, Open Methods, Intel and Compuware are now listed as
Solutions Members, while BPM and ALM provider Serena has been
downgraded to Associate Member Status, and Motorola to Enterprise
Member status.

Naturally, this development has had financial consequences for
the Foundation. The Foundation has been fairly transparent in
regards to finances, providing its members with quarterly reports.
These reports reveal that the 2008 turnover of 5.9
Million US Dollars, dropped to 4.4 million US Dollar in 2009.
Simultaneously, the number of Eclipse projects increased, seeing
the Eclipse Platform expand into new areas such as Modeling, SOA,
and Runtime. Consequently, the Community is slowly but surely
dealing with the question of which direction the “Beast Eclipse”
(Doug Schaefer, Project Lead of C/C++ Development Tools) should
take, and if – in view of the decreasing resources – it can be
reigned in at all.

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Sebastian Meyen, Hartmut Schlosser

All Posts by Sebastian Meyen, Hartmut Schlosser

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