Sun drops bid to join Eclipse

Citing concerns over abandoning the NetBeans open-source community, Sun Microsystems decides not to join the IBM-backed Eclipse open-source effort.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
3 min read
Ending several months of negotiations, Sun Microsystems has decided not to join the Eclipse open-source tools effort backed by rival IBM.

In addition to dropping the plan to join Eclipse, Sun said Wednesday that it will no longer try to merge the Sun-sponsored NetBeans open-source Java tools project with Eclipse. The Eclipse open-source project, founded by IBM in 2001, is an IBM-owned consortium that has gained the membership of several development tools companies over the past year.

Java founder and steward Sun decided with Eclipse that overcoming the technical and organizational differences between the two groups would adversely affect current participants in the NetBeans and Eclipse projects, said Rich Green, vice president of the Development Platforms Group at Sun.

"We both decided we did not want to abandon our constituents," said Green. "We decided community was more important than cost savings and things like that."

Both Eclipse and NetBeans are open-source projects that are creating software to allow several different Java development tools to snap together in a single programming application. A developer could, for example, combine a source-code management tool from one provider with a code editor from another company.

Initially, the two parties discussed disbanding NetBeans but quickly shifted negotiations to explore ways to coalesce the two open-source projects under a single entity, Green

Get Up to Speed on...
Open source
Get the latest headlines and
company-specific news in our
expanded GUTS section.

said. In theory, merging the two groups could create a larger community around a single set of technologies and ensure that two different projects did not create incompatible code.

But to rework their respective plug-in systems as well as the underlying tool platform would require a great deal of time and expense on the part of both groups, Green said. Sun, for example, has built its commercial Java development tools on top of NetBeans, and a shift to Eclipse would require a significant reworking.

A representative from Eclipse could not immediately be reached for comment.

The failure of Sun and Eclipse to reach a collaborative arrangement effectively creates a split between two of the largest open-source tools projects in the industry.

Green said that ultimately the two groups will provide developers with more choice. He said Sun is still willing to reopen discussions with Eclipse in the future.

One analyst said that having two dueling open-source Java tools efforts is not helpful in Java companies' ongoing competition against Microsoft and its .Net line of development tools. Independent software providers can create a single add-on product for Microsoft's tools but are required to write plug-ins for two different systems for Java tools, noted Stephen O'Grady, analyst at RedMonk.

"Microsoft is still setting the pace from a usability and productivity perspective, but the Java vendors are continuing to support two competing platforms/communities for plug-in development," O'Grady said. "That just seems counterproductive, if the real goal is to threaten Microsoft."

Green said Sun is pursuing efforts to improve interoperability among Java development tools but said no specific plans have been worked out.

Apart from the technical differences between Eclipse and NetBeans, Sun had some concerns that Eclipse was dominated by IBM, Green said. In September, Eclipse set out to restructure its membership model to gain independence from IBM and established a board.