Life at Eclipse

Musings on the Eclipse Foundation, the community and the ecosystem

Code Keiretsu

Simon Phipps wrote an interesting blog post musing about the how the Japanese business model of interlocking companies (keiretsu) and the long tail intersect to describe the functionings of open source communities. Basically, the idea is that open source communities can be described as “code keiretsus around a long tail of applications”.

For those interested, the “long tail” theory first appeared in Wired Magazine and points out that in the new digital world, a great deal of money can be made servicing markets that would have previously been uneconomic due to low volumes. Anyone interested in learning about how this idea applies to Eclipse should go see Carl Zetie’s talk at EclipseCon.

Although the metaphors are interesting, I think the analysis falls apart in one place, where he says:

So how do these ideas relate? By combining them, we have a potential model for certain kinds of open source community such as GNOME, Apache and Eclipse.
This “code keiretsu” is unlikely to include direct competitors, but will include a diverse array of interests serving many points in a target deployment system.

It is around the area of competitive co-operation that I think that the idea needs some polishing. Specifically, Eclipse stands out as an example of where direct competitors are not only participating, they are doing so within the bounds of specific projects such as Web Tools (BEA, IBM, JBoss, Oracle) and Data Tools (Sybase, IBM) to name but two examples. What we’re seeing at Eclipse is very much the diverse array of interests that Simon expects, but the experience shows that the model needs to be be extended to include direct competitors as well.

As regular attendees to the Eclipse Members Meetings are aware, Siobhan O’Mahony from Harvard Business School has been doing research on the new business models that Eclipse is bringing to the forefront. Her ideas around Competing on a Common Platform seem closer to the mark than code keiretsu, despite the fact that the latter is so much cooler as a label.

Written by Mike Milinkovich

February 9, 2006 at 9:52 am

Posted in Foundation

11 Responses

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  1. I said “unlikely” precisely with you in mind, Mike 🙂 While keiretsus of all kinds including open source projects can easily include competitors, it’s unusual for open source communities to involve competitors directly competing in the same market with the same class of product. I think the factors that have brought some competitors together and excluded others are more a matter of the Eclipse governance model than inherent in the open source movement. Worth discussing on Saturday though.


    February 10, 2006 at 1:55 am

  2. … and I see from today’s news that not every Eclipse member thinks it’s a great idea for direct competition – farewell, Borland.


    February 10, 2006 at 10:06 am

  3. Well, that’s certainly the FUD-based interpretation. See my latest post.

    Mike Milinkovich

    February 10, 2006 at 11:26 am

  4. Simon,Regarding: “…it’s unusual for open source communities to involve competitors directly competing in the same market with the same class of product. I think the factors that have brought some competitors together and excluded others are more a matter of the Eclipse governance model than inherent in the open source movement.”Of course, that is true for some open source communities with which you are most closely familiar. But I would have to beg to differ that it is in any way a general case. The Linux community, for example, is filled with direct competitors. Of course there are the obvious ones such Novell and RedHat. But if you look at the membership roster of OSDL you will find direct competitors in many industry segments such as hardware, telecommunications and mobile. Most, if not all, of these firms make various contributions to the Linux code commons. And they co-operate on defining many of the different Linux profiles so important to their respective industries.A second example is Apache, were employees of many direct competitors co-operate — as individuals of course — on many open source projects, but do so with the blessings of their employers. Because these companies see the value in building an open and shared platform.In fact, I would go so far as to say that it is the hallmark of any truly open community to involve direct competitors. “Open” in an open community should mean, after all, “open to all comers”. I would have to turn your observation around and say that it is more of an artifact of a subset of open source governance models than anything inherent in the open source movement. I do need to mention to there are no competitors excluded from joining Eclipse by our governance model, as you seem to have implied. That some have chosen not to join based on their own sound business judgement does not mean that they are in any way excluded from doing so.

    Mike Milinkovich

    February 11, 2006 at 11:46 am

  5. I agree with most of what you’ve said, of course. What I’m getting at is it’s certainly not usual for companies addressing the same market with the same class of product to participate in the same communities in the same way. It’s common for competitors to co-operate over what does not differentiate them.The Linux kernel is one possible exception, but most competitors in Apache are collaborating in projects where they have different business goals from their involvement, and I would still assert that’s the case in most communities I have seen (and unlike your implication of introversion, I can assure you I survey the community of communities very widely as part of my job – Sun participates more widely than just about anyone else).Concerning Eclipse – well, Sun is already an Eclipse developer but your governance demands $250,000 and 8 staff from us in order to gain recognition. I consider that exclusion – every other community where we participate welcomes contribution rather than demanding money.


    February 24, 2006 at 9:47 pm

  6. Simon,I would please ask that you actually read the Eclipse Bylaws and/or other governance documents before making unfounded and negative statements. It does not cost $250,000 to join the Eclipse Foundation. The Add-in Provider membership is $5,000, exactly the same price it costs a company to join the Java Community Process. There are many large and important companies who are Add-In Provider members. Just a few examples include: Ericsson, NTT, Fujitsu, Texas Instruments and Oracle. Sun would be in good company if they were to decide to join at that level.Yes, it is significantly more expensive to become a strategic member of Eclipse. But that is by design. It makes sense to have our Board members representing companies for whom Eclipse is strategic. I have no idea what organizations Sun has joined, but our dues structures are very much in line with other industry organizations. Take a look at OSDL for example, whose top-level membership dues are $1 million per year. You have to go three levels down in membership with them before you hit $250,000. Last time I checked, OSDL was doing very well. And with nearly a dozen new strategic members joining the Eclipse board in the past year, ours is obviously a model which is working very well for our community.Like I said in my previous response, I completely understand that Sun may have perfectly valid business reasons for not joining Eclipse. But that’s Sun’s decision, and not the fault of Eclipse’s governance. Part of being a vendor neutral community is that everyone has to play by the same rules, and that applies to Sun as well as everyone else.Secondly, on what basis do you claim that Sun is already an Eclipse developer? I just doublechecked our committer database, and there are zero Sun employees participating in Eclipse projects. I have no idea if there are Sun employees building Eclipse plug-ins for Sun’s own business reasons, but we are still waiting for Sun to contribute to Eclipse itself. If you’re looking for recognition, it’s pretty easy to get some at Eclipse. Show up and do something useful. No one is asked for any money to participate in or contribute to Eclipse projects.

    Mike Milinkovich

    February 26, 2006 at 9:50 pm

  7. The Glassfish open source community has written an Eclipse plug-in for Glassfish – I thought you’d know and be pleased we’d “showed up and done something useful”. I blogged about it and there’s a screencast and an EJB 3.0 example, your colleague Ian mentioned it, EclipseZone noticed too and it was in the press. Is there somewhere else it should have been announced?I wasn’t able to find your bylaws linked on actually – where should I look? All I could find was the membership page, and that makes it clear that we’d have to make public statements we don’t agree with and authorise use of Sun’s logo to promote Eclipse, and would be excluded from membership if we’d not make those statements – it’s clearly not just about code. I’m not aware of any open source community where use of a participant’s logo is mandatory for community inclusion so while you’re right this is Sun’s choice the governance rule that makes it so is somewhat unusual.As do the fees. I apologise if I misunderstood the membership levels you’ve been proposing – that quarter-million level seemed to fit the public taunts IBM/Eclipse have been making at Sun for a few years. But when it comes to fees, I think you say it well yourself: “our dues structures are very much in line with other industry organizations.” If you’re running an industry-political organisation like OSDL or a standards body like OASIS or the JCP then I agree your dues are commensurate with that goal and as high as theirs. Compared with open source communities like GNOME or Apache, though, your fees are extremely high. Over at NetBeans, the Board elections just started and all you need to vote there is a (free) login ID. Sun belongs to so many open source communities that if they all started asking for $5k (let alone $250k) it would soon become impractical.


    February 27, 2006 at 2:59 am

  8. Simon, The governance documents are on -> “About Us” (top nav) -> “Governance” (left nav).

    Mike Milinkovich

    February 27, 2006 at 8:52 am

  9. Cool, got it, thanks! Naive user suggestion: Link to them from the membership forms and pages 🙂


    February 27, 2006 at 7:33 pm

  10. Part of being a vendor neutral community is that everyone has to play by the same rulesYou state that you have varying levels of membership for sale at varying prices. What on earth is vendor neutral about that?Do companies believe they are getting the same thing whether they pony up $5000 or $250000? Clearly either they’re being played for fools or some vendors are more, shall we say, neutral, than others. Which is it?


    March 1, 2006 at 2:54 am

  11. Dear anonymous,Sorry, but I don’t answer anonymous comments. However, I would encourage you to look at the organizational and dues structure of nearly every industry and standards organization on the planet. Given the incredible growth in the Eclipse membership, it is clear that rational economic decision makers are voting with their money that Eclipse is truly vendor neutral.

    Mike Milinkovich

    March 2, 2006 at 5:55 pm

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