Life at Eclipse

Musings on the Eclipse Foundation, the community and the ecosystem

Present (part 2)

This is a continuation of last Friday’s post, and is the third installment in my Past, Present and Future of Eclipse series.

No conversation about the present world of Eclipse can omit a comment on the vibrancy of the ecosystem. As I mentioned earlier, I believe that the early (and strategic) decision to explicitly connect an industry consortium to an open source project community is what drives our community’s growth. Certainly our 150+ members are a big part of our community.

Donald Smith wrote a great blog post a while back on Measuring the Health of Ecosystems. In it he quoted a HBR article on Strategy as Ecology, which identified three key elements of ecosystem health.

  • Productivity of the Ecosytem — how much economic value is being created by the ecosystem.
  • Robustness — how durable and able to adapt is the ecosystem to external events.
  • Niche Creation — the ability to expand the ecosystem with meaningful diversity.


It would take way more space than a single blog post to talk about the productivity of the Eclipse ecosystem. Let me just say this: my full-time job is to look after Eclipse and keep tabs on what is going on. And it is absolutely impossible to keep track of all the products and services based on the various Eclipse projects. Eclipse is an amazingly productive ecosystem.


On robustness, over the years the Eclipse community has dealt with quite a few external events driven by our competitors. Which raises an interesting point: if Eclipse is a free and open community with a diverse commercial ecosystem, who are its competitors? This is a bit of a simplification, but it really boils down to two: Microsoft and Sun.

Microsoft Visual Studio was the product which Eclipse was originally created to compete with. But in many ways, the competition has morphed into co-opetition, as many developers use both Eclipse and Visual Studio. There are a lot of developers who use VS for their .NET development and Eclipse for Java and everything else. So there are actually interesting scenarios where interoperability between Eclipse and Microsoft products makes sense.

The competition with Sun’s developer products is more direct, as in many ways we are competing for the same developer: Java programmers. (Despite the fact that Eclipse does so much more than Java tools, that does remain our key franchise, and commercial ecosystem opportunity.) Visual Studio and Eclipse can complement one another. In most cases, NetBeans and Eclipse are substitutes. As a result, the only major organization dedicated to competing head-to-head with the Eclipse community is Sun.

I thought that Cote’s blog post on Europa did a very good job of summarizing that competition. I’ve certainly never heard a better metaphor than:

NetBeans typically wants to first tell you how to start pounding nails, while Eclipse wants to first tell you about the hammer………For Eclipse, the platform is the killer feature.

But Sun has been gunning for Eclipse for as long as I’ve been around, and although NetBeans has clearly gotten better, the market share and download numbers that we have show only steady growth for Eclipse. Anyone want to bet that NetBeans 6 will be the third (fourth?) release in a row that will be positioned as the Eclipse Killer?

So I personally rate the robustness of the Eclipse ecosystem as very high and still growing.

Niche Creation

The last element of ecosystem health is niche creation, where the technology is rapidly adopted in new technology niches. Don’t get confused: “niche” is not a synonym for either “small” or “insignificant”. Think more along the lines of “new” and “cool”.

Again, Eclipse rates very highly. Eclipse as a platform has excelled in enabling niche creation. Its adaptability has driven growth and success in many new technology niches as quickly as they’ve been created.

Here are just a couple of recent examples:

  • According to Linux Watch, there is cross-community interest in rallying around Eclipse as the tools platform for Linux LSB development.
  • Within days of Apple shipping the iPhone, Aptana shipped its Eclipse-based (and EPL-licensed) IDE for iPhone development.
  • Verigy recently shipped its semiconductor test solution which leverages Eclipse to provide “…an active hardware view, which provides the user with an intuitive, graphical view of the RF measurement block diagram, and the ability to export RF setups to test method templates…”.


Overall, I am very happy with the state of Eclipse today. We have a challenging mission to create an open development platform, an amazing wealth of development talent amongst our committer population, and a vibrant and healthy ecosystem.

Next up…Futures…wherein I will not necessarily be so consistently cheery 🙂

Written by Mike Milinkovich

July 9, 2007 at 12:30 am

Posted in Foundation

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