Sun Waffling On Joining Eclipse Development Tools Alliance - InformationWeek

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Sun Waffling On Joining Eclipse Development Tools Alliance

The ambivalence about Eclipse is part of Sun's larger love-hate relationship with open source.

Executives from Sun Microsystems continue to speak out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to the possibility of Sun joining the Eclipse Foundation.

During a keynote Thursday morning at EclipseCon, Sun Chief Technology Evangelist Simon Phipps again clarified Sun's reasons for not yet joining the Eclipse Foundation, but insisted the Santa Clara, Calif.-based vendor might join the open-source software organization sometime in the future.

"Sun's joining Eclipse is still in the cards," Phipps said, adding that the company continues to participate in negotiations regarding membership in the group.

To his credit Phipps, who spent a number of years at IBM before joining Sun four years ago, did voice one of the most credible reasons for Sun's not joining Eclipse, saying it didn't make sense from purely a business perspective.

"Sun won't use Eclipse because we've already spent so much investing in NetBeans," he said. "Sun doesn't intend to produce an Eclipse product any more than IBM intends to produce a product on NetBeans."

That said, Phipps also invited the Eclipse Foundation to join both the Java Tools Community (JTC) and the Java Community Process (JCP) to unify its extensible tools framework effort with work from other Java software vendors to achieve a common goal: making the Java platform even stronger competitor against Microsoft .Net.

The JTC was formed several weeks ago by Sun, BEA Systems, Oracle and other vendors to provide standards for interoperability among Java tools. While JTC's charter remains unclear, members said the JTC will work with the JCP, the organization supervised by Sun that creates Java standards.

In his talk Thursday morning, Phipps also hinted that Sun could introduce its own open-source project around J2SE or J2EE at JavaOne this year.

Later, he told CRN that he had thought Sun would introduce such a project last year or the year before, but that it's been a business decision within Sun whether to create an open-source project or to devote those development and financial resources toward its own commercial products and Java industry standards.

"We know open source is a big deal, and for us to take our source tree and turn it into an open-source community will mean at best delaying and at worst stopping development for a couple of months," Phipps said. "In the current market conditions, we don't feel that we can do that."

Sun already has spun off several open-source projects--OpenOffice.org and NetBeans.org are two current examples. When asked why Sun just doesn't include a Java open-source project within one of these efforts, Phipps said that would still be an expensive and time-consuming endeavor.

Still, Sun continues to insist it is among the biggest open-source proponents in the market -- and Phipps said in Thursday's talk that he thinks Sun is among the largest contributors of code to open source in the industry. Even so, there is certainly no love lost between Sun and the open-source community.

In addition to calling Sun's control of Java a version of "apartheid" in his talk yesterday, Red Hat CTO Michael Tiemann told CRN later that Sun has no good reason for not open-sourcing Java other than for pride of ownership. In Tiemann's view, Sun executives won't give up Java for fear of people forgetting that Sun created it.

Sun's stewardship of Java has not completely obliterated any hope of open-source implementations -- and the JCP recently allowed for clean room and open-source implementations of the Java platforms as long as the products are not sold for commercial gain. There already are successful open-source Java projects, such as those conducted by The Apache Software Foundation and The JBoss Group.

In fact, one solution provider said Apache has done such a fine job creating open-source implementations of Java platform specs under projects such as Tomcat and Geronimo that transferring stewardship of Java from Sun to Apache would likely do little to hurt the Java community or hinder the technology's momentum.

"I think Apache would do a fine job [overseeing] J2EE," said Joe Lindsay, CTO of Costa Mesa, Calif.-based solution provider eBuilt.

Of course, Phipps and others at Sun beg to differ. When asked why Sun doesn't cut the last cord that ties Java technology to Sun, Phipps toed the Sun party line that allowing an open-source community to oversee Java rather than create standards in the JCP would harm the compatibility of software based on the Java platform standards like J2SE and J2EE.

"You can't go back once you've gone forward on [the topic of compatibility]," Phipps said. "Your Java code will work pretty much anywhere with almost no intervention on your part. The reason it has been possible to make that true for so long is because compatibility is maintained. Whatever happens, there has to be a way for compatibility to be enforced in the Java community."

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