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Sun ready to join Eclipse, part 1

By any measure, Eclipse and Sun's NetBeans have both been wildly successful. But from the beginning, Sun and Eclipse have had a strange and interesting relationship; sometimes friendly but sometimes not. Now the opportunity is greater than ever for the two to join forces to fight the powers arrayed against Java in the software industry. Recently I talked with Tim Cramer, director for Java Tools at Sun Microsystems, about this possibility.
Written by Ed Burnette, Contributor on

By any measure, Eclipse and Sun's NetBeans have both been wildly successful. But from the beginning, Sun and Eclipse have had a strange and interesting relationship; sometimes friendly but sometimes not. Now the opportunity is greater than ever for the two to join forces"If that’s on the table, I’d be willing to discuss it." to fight the powers arrayed against Java in the software industry. Recently I talked with Tim Cramer, director for Java Tools at Sun Microsystems, about this possibility.

In particular, I asked Tim what it would take for Sun to join as an equal partner in the Eclipse Foundation and collaborate with the other members. Up to now, the stock answer has been that it wasn't an option, but his reply was encouraging:

#1: Change the name :^)
#2: Stop fracturing the java platform
    - Don't use your own compiler, use the standard!
    - Don't augment the runtime with SWT
If that's on the table, I'd be willing to discuss it.

A little background is required in order to understand this answer.

Eclipse was the result of years of commercial and research work by a Canadian company called OTI, which was bought by IBM. NetBeans started as a student project in the Czech Republic called Xelfi, went commercial, and was bought by Sun. Independently, both IBM and Sun decided to make their software open source in order to gain developer mindshare; Sun in June 2000 and IBM in November 2001.

The problem has always been, and continues to be, IBM and Sun are fierce competitors. I can relate to that. I live in North Carolina at the nexus of three powerful college basketball rivalries: NC State, Duke, and Carolina. Since I graduated from State, naturally I have to root for my team and talk trash about the others at every opportunity. Except... when one of the other teams is the only one from our region to make it to the final 4 or the finals. Then, I'm in there rooting for Duke or Carolina with the best of them.

Now technically, IBM spun off Eclipse into its own Foundation 3 years ago. IBM has a seat on the board, but it's not a permanent seat nor do they have veto on anything - all the strategic members are equal. When Eclipse started, IBM accounted for 100% of the developers working on it, but now that's down to under 50%, especially on the peripheral projects. Most Eclipse projects are not lead by IBM employees anymore. But still, they play a major role and that has always made team Sun a little wary of the Eclipse team. 

The last time that bringing these two teams together was seriously discussed was in 2003. The proposal on the table at that time was that Sun would drop NetBeans and that Eclipse would change its name to something more "Sun friendly". However negotiations broke down and the idea was dropped.

Meanwhile the software industry continued its innovations. Ruby on Rails ascended, and PHP started getting more attention as a serious alternative for back-end servers. Microsoft finally came out with a new version of Visual Studio and is trying its best to dominate every aspect of development. Suddenly, the areas of disagreement between the two Java teams doesn't seem quite as important as they used to.

In my next installment I'll break down the conditions Tim lists to see if they're actually possible or not. After that I'll discuss the benefits of such a collaboration.

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