Life at Eclipse

Musings on the Eclipse Foundation, the community and the ecosystem

Innovation Networks at Eclipse

My keynote last week at Open Souce Meets Business in Nuremburg was on a topic that I think bears repeating. Namely: what are the keys to Eclipse’s continuing growth and success? This is at the ten-thousand-foot-level I’m talking here, and definitely not with my technical hat on. This is about the positive business drivers that bring organizations to Eclipse.

I believe that the two main reasons why so many companies are participating at Eclipse are these:

  1. The Eclipse community has established the best existing model for multiple corporations to create innovation networks, enabling co-operation on the development of product-ready open source software.
  2. Eclipse has a proven track record of helping companies get started with open source, and assisting their migration to the next level of open source maturity.

First, what do I mean by an “innovation network”? Basically, I’m talking about the concepts promulgated by Henry Chesbrough in his books Open Innovation and Open Business Models. The basic notion is that firms need to treat their R&D as an open, rather than closed, system. Disregarding his lengthy discourse on patents and intermediate markets for intellectual property, I believe making his vision a reality requires a business model for companies to particpate in joint development. As I think of it, an innovation network exists where there is a interconnecting web of both collaborative production and consumption of innovation. Companies are attracted to Eclipse because it provides the best existing mechanism available today to do this.

For concrete examples of what I mean, I encourage you to take a look at the contributors and consumers of projects such as Web Tools and CDT.

As Chesbrough defines the term “business model”, there are two elements: value creation and value capture. (“Value capture” means “make money”.) The predictability, licensing model, open governance and vendor neutrality of Eclipse makes it possible for direct competitors to collaborate on value creation for technology which they require for their products, but which are not necessarily key product differentiators. I cannot possibly stress enough the importance of open governance and vendor neutrality in enabling value creation.

Value capture then occurs by adoptors shipping products and/or services based on this shared technology. Although this seems obvious, Chesbrough believes differently:

Open Innovation is sometimes conflated with open source methodologies for software development…While open source shares the focus on value creation throughout an industry value chain, its proponents usually deny or downplay the importance of value capture. (Open Innovation: Researching a New Paradigm)

Not so at Eclipse. In fact, our community embraces value capture. We want to see commercial adoption and go out of our way to facilitate it. There are two key pieces of evidence to support this:

  • The first is the expectation that Eclipse projects ship solid frameworks and well-constructed APIs. Of course, due to factors such as maturity and resources the mileage varies from project to project. But the expectation is there across the Eclipse community, and is enshrined in our development process. This is probably the least understood element of Eclipse as to the casual observer, Eclipse ships tools. In fact, our community first and foremost strives to ship product-ready frameworks and components. The tools are there to demonstrate the utility of the frameworks and to help drive adoption in order to enable to creation of a full ecosystem of users, extenders and vendors.
  • The second is our annual release trains. Our community’s success in shipping an every-increasing stack of product-ready technology on a regular basis provides commercial consumers of Eclipse projects with something they crave: predictability. If we want companies to build products on top of open source projects, they need to know that they can build their product plans with a reasonable degree of certainty that the community dates will be met. When combined with those key elements of open development — openness, transparency and meritocracy — predictability is a key part of the success Eclipse has had with respect to commercial adoption.

So to return to the beginning: Eclipse enables innovation networks focused on value creation in the form of product-ready technology and value capture in the form of commercial products and services.

It is important to note that that the key elements in Eclipse’s governance, licensing and development processes pre-date my tenure at Eclipse. So full credit goes to the folks who worked on the Eclipse Foundation Bylaws and other core documents. You’ve created something pretty special.

Coming next: part two on Eclipse’s track record in helping companies get started with open source.

Written by Mike Milinkovich

January 30, 2007 at 1:49 pm

Posted in Foundation

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