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Eclipse Shines On, Even Without Sun

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Eclipse, an emerging open source development environment, can be especially useful to Linux developers because it lets them keep working in Linux while creating software for a much wider cross-platform audience. Recently, Sun Microsystems opted not to join the IBM-driven project after giving thought to the possibility. Meanwhile, many other developers keep creating Eclipse software, including offerings that are bringing the use of Eclipse beyond its Java base into C, C++, C#, Perl, and even COBOL programming languages. Tech journalist Jacqueline Emigh reports.
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The Eclipse Project, an IBM-spearheaded open-source initiative, drew a lot of attention lately when IBM rival Sun Microsystems backed away from joining. Despite Sun's very early exit, however, many independent software vendors (ISVs) and university researchers are claiming big advantages for the Eclipse IDE framework. Topping the list is the capability to create and work with plug-in tools written in a growing number of programming languages, across Linux, Unix, Windows, and Mac OS X operating environments.

"Eclipse is a universal platform for integrating different development tools," sums up Marc Erickson, who pulls double duty as both IBM's representative to Eclipse and communications manager for Eclipse.org.

The Java-based Eclipse environment first started shining in the fall of 2001. "Founding stewards" include IBM as well as two major Linux distributors: SuSE and RedHat, (plus toolmakers Rational Software, Borland, QNX, TogetherSoft, and WebGain).

By the time of IBM's developerWorks Live! conference in the spring of 2003, IBM enthusiastically proclaimed that just about every major ISV had already joined Eclipse—everyone, that is, except Sun Microsystems, Microsoft, Novell, and BEA Systems.

Then, late last year, an increasingly independent Eclipse.org offered a board stewardship to Sun, a high-profile service provider/ISV/independent hardware vendor (IHV) that is gradually adding Linux as an alternative to Solaris on its workstation and server hardware.

Ultimately, Sun declined Eclipse's bid, pointing to lingering concerns about integration between Eclipse and its own competing NetBeans development approach. However, some believe that Sun seemed to leave the door open to future involvement with Eclipse.

Meanwhile, in a surprise move in mid-January of 2004, Novell became an Eclipse member (about a week after completing a $210 million acquisition of SuSE Linux). When unveiling the SuSE acquisition plans in early November, 2003, Novell also announced a $50 million investment in its own stock from IBM.

Big Blue's Business Partners

"To really get the benefits of Eclipse, we need to work with partners," IBM's Erickson declares in a recent interview. For one thing, partners are helping to extend Eclipse from its Java base into programming environments that encompass C, C++, C#, Perl, and COBOL.

"Linux developers tend to be especially interested in C," Erickson notes. Last October saw the release of an updated development environment from the QNX-led Eclipse C/C++ Development Tools (CDT) Project. Enhancements in CDT 1.2 range from better editing, navigation, and build capabilities to support for Linux's GNU Debugger (Gdb). Down the road, Red Hat is expected to integrate CDT into its enterprise software for Linux.

Epic has already produced an Eclipse setup for Perl. Meanwhile, in France, Improv Technologies, Inc. is readying a C# development environment for Eclipse, according to Erickson.

For IBM and other ISV partners, revenues have always been a major drawing card. To give one very prominent example, IBM's WebSphere Studio uses Eclipse as its back end. Under the Common Public License (CPL), developers receive intellectual property rights over software they produce with the use of Eclipse. This software can be either sold as a commercial product or released free of charge.

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