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Open-source group broadens its reach

The Eclipse development tools consortium gains momentum with the announcement of 13 members to its board of stewards and the introduction of three new open-source projects.

The Eclipse development tools consortium gained momentum Monday with the announcement of 13 members to its board of stewards and the introduction of three new open-source projects.

Spearheaded by IBM, the Eclipse project is a community of companies building software to integrate different types of development applications. Much as a Web portal presents several applications in a single Web browser, the Eclipse software lets programmers plug in different types of development tools while retaining the same presentation. For example, a developer could write a program that draws on collaboration software and a content management system from two separate software companies without having to learn the language for the two plug-in applications.

Eclipse members, which now number 30, operate on under an open-source model of a common public license, in which the software is developed in a sort of communal effort rather than behind closed doors. New board members include heavyweights Hewlett-Packard, SAP and Oracle, as well as smaller companies such as AltoWeb, Parasoft, Flashline and MKS Software.

The Eclipse software is oriented primarily toward Java developers, but other languages can work within the plug-in structure. The consortium on Monday is introducing a project to add the Cobol programming language to the Eclipse software, as well as projects for collaboration and software modeling.

Although the battles between Microsoft and backers of the Java language such as IBM, Sun Microsystems and BEA Systems gain much industry attention, there is a large community of software programmers that favor open-source tools and operating systems for building business applications. By providing an open-source alternative that combines applications tools from many tool vendors, Eclipse members aim to outflank Microsoft, renowned for its proprietary approach to applications development, and challenge its strong relationship with software developers, said Scott Hebner, director of WebSphere at IBM.

"It's no secret that one of Microsoft's biggest strength is its developer network. (Eclipse) represents another flank around them...Microsoft sees all the other players in the industry adopting not only Java, but also Linux. That makes it impossible for Microsoft to go after a single company," said Hebner.

In part because of IBM's powerful position in the Java community, Eclipse is enjoying an uptick in momentum, analysts said. Since its founding last year, it has garnered the support of other tool vendors, including Oracle, Sybase, Borland International, Fujitsu and Red Hat.

Notable exceptions to Eclipse membership are two of IBM's largest competitors in Java development tools, BEA and Sun. Both BEA and Sun have programs designed to entice third-party tools vendors to plug in to their own development tools and are not expected to join Eclipse. Although Sun has raised the possibility of linking its own open-source development tool project, called NetBeans, to Eclipse, the two open-source projects will likely remain distinct.

"There has already been a significant investment by (Sun's) partners in their current plug-in architecture, so it doesn't really make sense for them" to join Eclipse, said John Meyer, senior industry analyst for application development at Giga Research. "The two can co-exist without giving any advantage to Microsoft. I expect, however, that Eclipse will continue to grow faster than NetBeans."