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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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Most Recent Comments
Denis 02/09/04 12:08:04 AM EST

Swing''s dead, baby, Swing''s dead (and so is Zed). Think over it, mind you  Sun had almost a decade (!) yet has failed to deliver a viable GUI library. Swing performance is not adequate, and its look-and-feel is sort of a Mickey Mouse one. And now, with SWT being a virtue, Sun desperately attempts to kill -9 this excellent initiative.

Sun might think that it''s rather groovy to swing (yeah baby, yeah), and it well might be. But the great effort of the swingers'' from Sun to screw the SWT is not groovy at all. Neither it is cool. Swing is painfully ugly, and a bloody mess of SWT and Swing will not be any better.

Anyway, it looks-and-feels like the "evildoers" (if you see what I mean) from Sun have too much time and money on their hands and will fiddle with Swings lifeless body forever.

Karim Saloojee 02/04/04 05:09:42 AM EST

Eclipse and SUN would do well to co-operate. Having an indepenent set of tools that would operate equally well on both Eclipse and Netbeans would be fantastic for all Java developers - yes the Eclipse ones too.

Anyone who uses Eclipse seriously (I love it) will see how good (and bad) it is. An open set of tools would address its shortcomings, the fact that a tool was developed by the Netbeans project would not concern anybody because why should it?

IBM and SUN are companies, they do whats best for themselves. Don''t trust either one too much, and for the Eclipse fans remember OS2/Warp? Where is that now? SUN has produced some really good technologies and some bad ones. However, they have been Java''s leading light and embraced other forces in the Java industry. Forces that were hard to swallow first like the Apache group. However they overcame their fears of open source, then they opened up Java with the JSR process. They listen to the Java community and move with it (some would say catch up). They are not trying to force a vision down anyones throat - look at how many of their JSRs have been rejected.

The open source community needs to work together, a dogfight between Eclipse and Netbeans is in no ones interest except M$ and Borland. Valuable time and money would go into fighting each other instead of making the IDE really hot (like IDEA).

What we need is this to be like a big ice cream counter, choose your flavour chocolate or vanilla (Eclipse or Netbeans) and choose the sauces (tools) you want, strawberry or maple.

With good interoperable choice we get stronger - with flag waving we get weaker. SUN has a good point here.

Francisco 02/03/04 06:11:21 PM EST

Waitasec, there, kar - wouldn''t that imply that you''d want Sun to make sure SWT worked on all platforms? Because right now it doesn''t. I have a platform upon which SWT doesn''t work. I''ve talked to others for whom SWT doesn''t work on their (different) platforms. Do you really want Sun to distribute a jar that doesn''t measure up, all in the name of playing "fair?"

kar 02/03/04 05:50:18 PM EST

When Sun starts to distribute their JDK with swt.dll and swt.jar then I will believe they mean it.

java-user 02/03/04 10:30:09 AM EST

I think what Sun has to say has merit. I am neither a big advocate of either IDE and it sounds like there are some Eclipse fanboys on here. Isn''t it great that there are at least two powerful open source IDE''s? It seems that some feel that homogeneity is better by criticizing Sun for not joining Eclipse and "caving" into SWT. Isn''t Microsoft''s philosphy about homogeneity? Whereas, I thought Java was about diversity and competition, not fragmentation like the letter mentioned.

BTW, what is grass-root usage and how do you get a statistic on it? Sounds like rhetoric to me.

Bill Armstrong 02/03/04 10:13:29 AM EST

IDE''s tend to leap-frog each other. Sun is correct in persuing a big picture theme. I happen to use neither IDE. Sun has a community process. Why should Eclipse not join it?

java-user 02/03/04 09:58:51 AM EST

SUN''s netbeans does NOT even come close to ECLIPSE
in terms of functionality, usability & grass-root usage.

SUN should acknowledge this but I guess they can not.
Just because SUN invented/started Java, does not mean
they could invent great tools either.

IBM/BEA/others have alerady "eclipse"-ed "sun" in tools

Michael Franz 02/03/04 09:52:14 AM EST

I think Sun and IBM need to sit down and discuss how Sun can save face. Sun screwed up AWT and then missed the boat with Swing. Now they have a competitor providing a better UI toolkit and they can''t easily endorse it. Once Sun has a way to endorse SWT, they will be able to bring SWT into Java proper.

Tom Soraoka 02/03/04 09:42:19 AM EST

I think all the developers would benefit from Sun''s participation in Eclipse. If Sun''s intent is to proliferate the concept of running any application on any platform, then I''m all for it.

David Ferrero 02/03/04 08:29:30 AM EST

I agree with David Hibbs regarding the "Get Serious" caption and summary. I think Sun''s letter was straight forward and compelling - yet it didn''t carry the ''in your face'' disrespectful "Get Serious" jab. Just a clear articulated position about the big picture and the need for interop without a single code base.

David Hibbs 02/03/04 07:57:27 AM EST

Why the yellow press style headline and summary? The article description indicates a challenge from Sun to "Get Serious" -- and this is in quotes. A search of the page does not find this phrase anywhere but in the title. The same goes for the phrase "more serious" from the summary.

While I am a user, supporter and perhaps even an advocate of Eclipse I do think that some of what is presented has merit. There''s no need to poison the well by presenting it with a skewed headline or summary.

malcolm davis 02/02/04 10:07:57 PM EST

get real

Sun has complained about Eclipse on multiple occasions. Sun needs a reality check. NetBeans original look and feel was Unixie, not native to Windows, fat, slow, etc...
Sun wants to complain because they have an issue developing competitive development tools. Either lead, follow, or get out of the way&.

Scott Simmons 02/02/04 08:42:16 PM EST

I am SO tired of Sun -- the Eclipse organization already has 200 organizations supporting it -- when will McNealy and company learn to just "get along". It would have been much easier for them to join Eclipse -- but that would have made folks at Sun appear to endorse SWT versus SWING as well as admit that their tools solutions (all the way back to the Java Workshop IDE) are painfully behind the times. C''mon Scott -- get with the program!

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