The group in charge of the open-source Eclipse project approved a three-month restructuring process this week which aims to reduce IBM's dominant role and make the project more attractive to Java suppliers such as Sun Microsystems and BEA Systems.
"The board, which is made up of 47 major companies in the tool business, voted to create an independent entity of Eclipse, and it was unanimous," said Eclipse chairman Skip McGaughey. This independent entity is going to preserve and protect the open-source nature of development, and it is going to preserve and protect the structural arrangements we have with all of the member companies."
Under Eclipse's new structure, which is expected to be in place by December, the project will be managed by a professional management organisation, and IBM will have a less prominent role both as day-to-day manager of the project and as developer of the core Eclipse infrastructure, said McGaughey.
"By creating an independent entity, it's a clear statement that what we're trying to do is create an industry-wide platform for integration," he added
Oversight of Eclipse will be transferred to a board of directors that will be made up of open-source developers, Eclipse tool providers, and "strategic producers" who devote significant resources to the development of the Eclipse infrastructure.
The Eclipse project was founded with a $40m investment from IBM in 2001 to create an open-source platform for building Java development tools. Though much of the Eclipse development work has been done by IBM engineers, the project has picked up the endorsement of a number of Java tools companies, including Borland Software, Oracle and SAP.
One company that has not joined Eclipse is Sun Microsystems, which has viewed the project as a competitive threat to its own NetBeans open-source development framework. Sun has even characterised the project as a potential threat to Java's "write once, run anywhere" philosophy, because Eclipse developers use a non-standard tool called the Standard Widget Toolkit to build the graphical components of their Java applications.
However, Sun officials confirmed that it is considering a membership in Eclipse, although a Sun spokeswoman admitted the company had always been irritated by the name Eclipse. "Sun probably won't join a group named so obviously as a competitive gesture," she added.
An Eclipse name change could be in the works, predicted Gartner vice president of research development Mike Blechar. "The very name of the group - as in eclipse of the sun - has been a touchy point."
One Eclipse member was willing to consider a name change if it would bring Sun on board. "I think the name Eclipse isn't as important as the unification of the industry around development tools," said Oracle director of strategy Ted Farrell. "That's the end goal. It's not someone having control of a name."
Robert McMillan writes for IDG News Service