Interview: Open sourcing of IntelliJ IDEA

Roman Strobl

A few weeks ago, JetBrains announced the open sourcing of its IDE platform IntelliJ IDEA. We spoke with Roman Strobl, technology evangelist at Jetbrains, about the goals of the new strategy, plans for the future and the new Community Edition of IntelliJ IDEA 9.

JAXenter: If a product vendor suddenly goes open source, you might raise suspicion that you dump a “shopkeeper”. How do you want to debilitate this suspicion?

Roman Strobl: We are open sourcing IntelliJ IDEA for the following reasons: We want to grow the number of users of IDEA. We want to grow the ecosystem around IDEA – get more plug-ins, framework integrations, products based on our platform, etc. And we want to increase community participation. So as you can see, open sourcing is for us a growth strategy. It is a bold statement that we believe in future of IntelliJ IDEA. Also note that the open source edition provides only limited subset of features (e.g. no Java EE or framework support). We expect that many developers will be able to experience the advantages of our approach to development thanks to the free edition. We think that many of them will decide to buy the Ultimate Edition and thus drive further sales for us.

JAXenter: Do you believe that a reduced set of features in terms of Java EE development is an attractive offering to developers, who can get full featured Java EE development environment from Netbeans or Eclipse?

Roman Strobl: We believe Community Edition will be interesting for many types of developers including developers working on Java EE backends, desktop application developers, Groovy developers and others. Obviously Community Edition does not make a fully featured Java EE tooling right now, but things may change in the future once community around Community Edition will start building Java EE plug-ins. Right now we suggest professional developers to look at IntelliJ IDEA Ultimate Edition, which offers a state of art Java EE development environment.

JAXenter: You managed to establish a commercial IDE next to NetBeans and Eclipse. Your “open source rivals” focus on a framework concept and they both provide big open source platforms for IDEs. What is the difference of your platform, respectively why does the world need a third one?

Roman Strobl: We do not really want to compete with other Rich Client Platforms such as Eclipse RCP or NetBeans Platform in the area of building generic desktop applications. Our platform is purely an IDE platform, which means that you can only build IDE-like applications with it. We believe we have much more advanced language infrastructure, so building a new IDE for a new language is easier than with the other platforms. Our platform has also very good refactoring APIs, which enables developers to build tools with stronger refactoring capabilities than other platforms – even with cross-language and cross-framework refactorings. The last advantage I would like to mention is that IntelliJ Platform is covered by the Apache 2.0 license, which is more flexible than the licenses other platforms use.

JAXenter: What goals are you planning to achieve with the open source strategy? Where would you like to be in one year and where in two years?

Roman Strobl: As I mentioned earlier, our main goal is to grow the number of users of IntelliJ IDEA and increase our market share. We want to be seen as a strong player in the open source IDE world. We are already perceived as innovators in the IDE space, but not everyone was able to experience these innovations due to the price barrier. Thanks to our open source edition we hope many developers will be able to experience IDEA and this will help us further improve the market awareness about IntelliJ IDEA and other products we create. Finally we want to grow the ecosystem around our platform as well as increase community participation.

JAXenter: How do you plan the cooperation with the community? Will there be committers outside JetBrains?

Roman Strobl: There are already many people contributing code to IDEA and writing plug-ins. Developers can submit patches to our bug tracking system and when we decide to accept them the code becomes part of IntelliJ IDEA. As for committers, people with long time history of successful patches will be able to get commit rights.

We also expect following community contributions to increase: More discussions newsgroups on forums. Involvement in marketing the product, that means presentations, links to and so on. More documents, articles and screencasts being created by the community. More bug reports filed and fixed and more plug-ins contributed. You can check our contribution page on for details about community contributions.

JAXenter: When you decided to open source IDEA, was there any example you followed?

Roman Strobl: We looked at examples of successful open source Apache and Google projects. We also looked at our open source IDE competitors for inspiration. However we have not followed all approaches done by the competition. For example: we chose a different type of open source license. We also got inspired by several other successful products which have both free and commercial editions.

JAXenter: Thank you very much!

Roman Strobl
Roman Strobl works at JetBrains as a technology evangelist. He has more than 12 years of software development experience in Java and various dynamic languages. Before joining JetBrains Roman worked at Sun Microsystems on the NetBeans and OpenSolaris projects. Roman is a frequent speaker at software conferences including Community One, Sun Tech Days, various Java events, and JUG meetings. Roman founded Czech Java User Group and enjoys supporting the Czech developer communtiy. Roman

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