Though IBM has always denied any connection between the Eclipse project's name and the company's long-standing desire to eclipse its nemesis Sun, it appears as though Big Blue's decision to turn the Eclipse integrated development environment (IDE) over to the open source community is finally paying off in a way that the Sun faithful must view as a breach to the Java hull.
In the interests of Java purity, Sun executives often bristle at the mere mention of Eclipse and have long admonished the project's "lack of pure Java principles." For example, with Eclipse, the IDE--as opposed to a natively cross-platform Java component--is what ensures the overall portability of Java applications that rely on a commonly used Eclipse-specific component known as SWT. Some Java developers prefer this component over the purer, natively portable, but regarded-by-some-as-less-robust SWING component that's supported by the Sun-endorsed NetBeans IDE. (A previous column
of mine goes into the rub.)
But ever since IBM made
the self-valued $40 million contribution to the open source community, the Eclipse vs. NetBeans competition has been characterized by mutiple of rounds of one-upsmanship. Both support the notion of third-party plug-in and each would routinely parade their plug-in list as being longer, better, and more valuable to developers than the other. IBM would say something like "Eclipse has Rational." Then NetBeans would say "We have Rational too." Then IBM bought Rational. You can see where this was going. For a while, it seemed as though Eclipse had the buzz while NetBeans had brand equity, better-entrenched third-party support, and the moral high ground.
But now, Eclipse's buzz has turned into tangible momentum
, having recently scored support from IBM rivals (and newest Eclipse board members) BEA, Sybase and Borland.
When asked whether, in light of Eclipse's momentum, Sun might be reconsidering the pursuit of Eclipse-NetBeans unity, Sun spokesperson Laura Ramsey gave me the following official Sun statement on the matter:
"Sun is wholly dedicated to the NetBeans platform as the foundation of Sun's developer tools. The performance, security, and full features of NetBeans, especially the new Beta version 4.1, is too solid of a technology to walk away from. The J2EE 1.4 support and mobility support, is really good -- critically acclaimed, actually. Now it's true there are a lot of folks on the 'other side' of the room there with Eclipse--building plug-ins and connectors and making money on a component level---but NetBeans is a solid IDE that developers like to use too. So Sun is not looking at this as a religious war-- NetBeans vs. Eclipse. We're looking at it as: Java is a ubiquitous market--it's big enough for more than one IDE. And choice is good and necessary to a healthy market. What do developers like to use? Well, a growing number of those developers like NetBeans (too)."
So, while Sun appears to remain steadfast in its commitment and unphased by the Java landscape's changing political balance, this is one of the first times that I've heard the company acknowledge Eclipse as though the market needs it as a choice.