Some open source projects are important in-and-of themselves. Firefox is an example.
Others are important because of what they enable. Eclipse is in that category.
With Eclipse 3.2, known as Callisto, the Eclipse Foundation is trying to do something much like Microsoft is attempting with Vista, unify a development environment.
The heart of the release is the update manager. It offers options for developers, but its simplicity pushes them to get with the latest. This could not only bring the whole community on to the same virtual "page," as it were, but make sure they stay on it, since this functionality will be part of the project going forward.
I talked about these issues last week with Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation since 2004. "Don’t think of it as a single bag of software. It is the name of an event, not a package," he said.
The news here is how Callisto applies the idea of using components, he said. "If you don’t architect your software to take advantage of component architecture you get in trouble, with too many dependencies."
"Another element is we have a very flexible and open governance model. Each Eclipse project that decided to join did so voluntarily. This was a bottom-up exercise. Each project remains independent within the Eclipse community. Then they come together to work on a common schedule."
A common release schedule, an automated update schedule, components that work together, all built from the bottom-up. And one thing that Microsoft has yet to match.
Transparency. "Doing your software development transparently has massive advantages. The project teams dealt with over 72,000 Bugzilla entries, and a great number came in from the community. We use agile methods within Eclipse." This is the "heartbeat for the community, a functioning pioece of code that is used to generate feedback."
Can all this bring Eclipse a development community rivaling that of Microsoft in size? That's the hope. Time, of course, will tell.