Quo Vadis Eclipse? Part One
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 
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.
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.