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From Sun, An Open Letter to Eclipse Membership: "Get Serious"

"We need to work together to make the Java platform a better, broader base for tools."

An Open Letter to Eclipse Membership
January 30, 2004

Sun would like to congratulate the Eclipse organization on the eve of the transition to independence. This move proves again that the Java technology ecosystem is capable of spawning new value and continued technical diversity.

Given this noteworthy accomplishment, and the recent creation of javatools.org, Sun would like to reflect on what we hope the future has in store for Java technology-based tools and the enduring Java platform.

What we have in common: the Big Picture.

First and foremost, the main goal for all of us in the Java development community is to achieve the strongest possible technology and market position for the Java platform. The Big Picture is a Java technology solution that ensures no "lock in" to a given platform, one that generates competitive markets and technologies, and one based on standards. That way developers, deployers and consumers continue to have choice and benefit from technological diversity.

Thanks is due to Eclipse for joining Sun in genuinely exploring options.

Since July 2003, Sun and Eclipse have held many candid conversations and explored various options to join, merge and otherwise combine forces. In the course of these discussions we were able to set aside differences of technical opinion to pursue our common goal -- the Big Picture.

All those involved in the meetings would agree that the sticking points in the discussion were not so much technical in nature as they were business-related. Sun bases all of its commercial tools products on the NetBeans[tm] open source IDE. The required mandatory transition to the Eclipse platform would inhibit development of innovative technologies like the Sun Java Studio Creator product (code-named Project Rave), and require a reconstruction of all of our existing tools. Any entry criteria requiring that Sun abandon the NetBeans open source platform directly conflicts with the concept of choice and diversity, the very bases that gave Eclipse its beginning. If this condition were to change, we would be happy to reconsider. In the meantime, it is worthwhile to explore how we (and others) can work with Eclipse to align in a way that benefits the strength of the Java platform as a whole, especially with the multi-partner javatools.org community recently announced.

We hope in the near future to find a solution that benefits both the Eclipse and NetBeans communities -- in very visible, open ways -- where Sun can be an open contributor to Eclipse, and Eclipse can do the same for the NetBeans platform. In that manner, technology and IP can flow more freely so that both communities benefit. This tight alignment ensures that the Java platform wins.

Choice does not mean fragmentation!

Competition and technical diversity are not equivalent to fragmentation, as some would define it. In the process of your achievement, you've shown that competition and diversity have in fact helped win over more developers and software vendors to the Java platform, and further demonstrated its staying power and value. Technical diversity is always beneficial when it's aligned with accepted standards. And, regarding alternative GUI technologies, Sun is even working to ensure effective standards-based interoperability there as well.

Some key issues to watch.

Once the Eclipse organization files for incorporation, Java technology developers and the entire industry will be interested in the following issues:

  • Independence of the Executive Director of Eclipse -- The organization's bylaws have given the director an unusual amount of power to form projects and assign resources. Will the director be an impartial guardian of the community (or be partial)?
  • Project staffing -- Today, IBM controls 70 to 80 percent of the project staffers, who effectively operate independently of what the Board declares. Will this continue to be the case?
  • Inclusion of outside IP -- If Eclipse is to grow, it must accept outside contributions from other platform vendors and should be willing to invest in the costs needed to accrete outside ideas. Ideas don't come free. Can you toe the very difficult line of being sensitive to the business interests of the participating vendors, and not just look at technology for technology's sake?

We're willing -- and able -- to help.

Sun has much to contribute to the community of tool vendors and to Eclipse in particular. For example, the NetBeans open source IDE, which has achieved well over 1.8 million downloads of NetBeans version 3.5 since its release in June, 2003, already delivers superb support for Web applications, for mobile clients, and for visual development of rich Java GUIs. And, the forthcoming NetBeans 3.6 release, available at in February, will support Web apps for the newest J2EE specifications including Servlet 2.4 and JSP 2.0.

Also, Sun has already been working to ensure that Swing GUI components can run inside of SWT containers such as Eclipse. Sun is in fact committed to actual Java technology interoperability, and committed to improving developers' lives to make it easier for portable Java technology-based code that works across the different vendors IDEs.

Advice and suggestions from our experience.

After years of driving the Java platform and community innovation and being the lead advocate for Java technology, Sun is heavily invested in Eclipse's mission -- and has a few suggestions.

Challenge yourselves to be more than an "exemplary framework" as stated in the Eclipse mission. Push the organization to be a unifying force for Java technology.

Diversity -- with alignment -- will aid in creating a stronger Java community and industry. You've proved it. But don't define "interoperability" on your own terms, but rather work with other major players in the industry to achieve actual interoperability. Working with the Java Community Process[sm] (JCP[sm]) and the Java Tools Community (JTC) would be great entrees into the discussion.

The question is no longer: "Will the Java tools industry move to one common source base?" That's always been a non-starter when you think about the players involved. The question is: "Will the new Eclipse work with tool vendors and developers to provide the richest set of offerings and maintain the Java technology and platform leadership in a competitive marketplace?"

We need to work together to make the Java platform a better, broader base for tools. That is the real issue. We trust Eclipse will help, not hinder, the effort.

Sun Microsystems, Inc.

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JDJ News Desk monitors the world of Java to present IT professionals with updates on technology advances, business trends, new products and standards in the Java and i-technology space.

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