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Eclipse revamp to forge path for Sun

The open-source development project is planning changes to make it independent of founder IBM, allowing Sun to consider membership.

The Eclipse open-source development tool consortium is planning changes that will make it independent of founder IBM and help mend a split in the Java community.

Skip McGaughey, chairman of Eclipse and an IBM executive, said the organization is revamping its membership model to gain independence from IBM, which invested $40 million in seed funding to start the open-source tools project.

By freeing itself from IBM's sponsorship, Eclipse hopes to attract other Java supporters--namely Sun Microsystems--that have been wary of joining a forum dominated by Big Blue. The changes will take place over the next three months, McGaughey said.

"This is an opportunity to restructure and continue, but the emphasis is on independence," McGaughey said. "We're trying to have a unified industry to the greatest extent possible."

The Eclipse project is creating a single application which serves as a "framework," or single graphical interface, through which developers can use multiple tools for tasks such as writing, testing or managing source code. Eclipse technology has garnered a good deal of interest, growing from nine companies at its founding two years ago to nearly 50 members now. IBM uses the Eclipse software as the basis for its own line of Java development tools.

Sun has stayed clear of Eclipse for both technical and political reasons. The company has its own open-source tools initiative called NetBeans, which competes with Eclipse for many of the same developers. Also, Sun and IBM have been at loggerheads for years over markedly different approaches to building graphical user interfaces for Java applications.

Given the organizational changes under way at Eclipse, Sun is considering joining the open-source project, according to a company representative. Sun wants a number of issues to be addressed before it joins, however. The company may push for a change in the organization's name, along with a resolution of technical problems over how Java applications present information, the representative said.

For instance, Sun, along with BEA Systems, back a method using the Java Abstract Windowing Toolkit (AWT) and Swing GUI (graphical user interface) components for building application user interfaces. The AWT/Swing approach, used in Sun's NetBeans-based tools, creates identical presentations, regardless of the operating system. IBM has incorporated into Eclipse an alternative method of building application interfaces called Standard Widget Toolkit (SWT).

The approaches, while incompatible, seek to allow developers to create applications that have a look that is particular to each operating system. For example, an application that presents order status from a customer care application would look the same to a Windows XP, Macintosh or Linux computer.

McGaughey said that Eclipse's board recently voted to have a "strong interoperability story" between the different approaches. The goal, he said, would be to unify the dueling technical approaches and put an end to a long-standing division among Java tool providers.