IBM builds momentum around Eclipse

An additional 13 vendors have agreed to join IBM's open-source project Eclipse, and will offer tools that plug into the...

An additional 13 vendors have agreed to join IBM's open-source project Eclipse, and will offer tools that plug into the development environment.

The latest participants include major software vendors SAP, Hewlett-Packard and Oracle, bringing the group's total to 30. As members, the companies commit to contributing technology and development to Eclipse projects.

IBM also announced it would launch three open-source projects within the Eclipse consortium to create plug-ins for writing code in the Cobol programming language, for adding collaboration features to software, and for automating software quality checking and modeling.

The growing support for Eclipse reflects a larger trend in software development where vendors including Borland and Rational are gravitating toward common frameworks, known as IDEs (Integrated Development Environments), that they can plug products into.

"Building your own tools platform would be the equivalent of building your own HTTP [Hypertext Transfer Protocol] server," said Scott Hebner, director of marketing for IBM's WebSphere division. "Why do that when you've got Apache?"

Tools vendors benefit from the approach because they can build products that fit into a standard platform, and avoid investing in developing their own proprietary infrastructure, analysts and IBM officials said. Developers benefit because they can combine a variety of tools into a single suite and complete virtually every step of a development project from a single interface.

"Ultimately what we'll get is two platforms: The Java one and the Windows one," said Ted Schadler, a software analyst with Forrester Research. "What happens is more innovation occurs."

Microsoft's Visual Studio .net software development suite is one of the leading IDEs, and is geared toward developing Windows and .net applications. It has a broad range of third-party contributors that have released Visual Studio .net plug-ins.

In the Java programming camp, IBM's Eclipse project carries on along side a similar effort by Sun Microsystems, which has invested in an open-source project called NetBeans, and has built its Sun ONE (Open Network Environment) Studio tool suit based on the NetBeans technology.

Sun's open source project predates Eclipse, and while it is also aimed at creating a common, open-source platform, it is on a crash course with IBM's competing effort, according to at least one analyst. New support for IBM's project puts it at an advantage, he said.

"The fact that IBM was able to very quickly manoeuvre their mass to encourage participation by other players - that has caused a lot of significant momentum behind Eclipse," said John Meyer, senior industry analyst at Giga information Group. "They have a full cradle-to-grave suite. Why wouldn't the other vendors want to jump on board?"

Java server software vendor BEA Systems is notably absent from the Eclipse project. It too is pursuing its own tools strategy. BEA has been working on a tools framework, called WebLogic Workshop, which also offers a platform with which third-party tools can be integrated.

Meyer said BEA's development platform lacks the broad industry support that Sun and IBM have assembled. "There are already two IDEs available," he said, identifying NetBeans and Eclipse. "I don't think there's room for any more."

BEA officials were not available for comment.

IBM likened Eclipse to other open-source efforts gaining steam in the software industry, claiming that the movement towards a common framework for tools vendors will help contribute to the broader open-source movement as it battles Windows for developers.

"Eclipse is to tools what Linux is to operating systems and Apache is to Web servers," Hebner said. "This provides application developers a tools environment on an open standards platform and no single company owns or controls the technology."

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