Open source eclipses commercial tools for Web services development

As developers question commercial implementations of Web services standards, they are increasingly turning to open source alternatives such as the Eclipse development platform.

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Open source is giving tools vendors a run for their money. As developers question commercial implementations of Web services standards, they are increasingly turning to open source alternatives such as the Eclipse development platform.

In a keynote presentation last week at the Web Services Edge Conference, Mike Milinkovich of Eclipse.org talked about the benefits of open source for Web services and service-oriented architecture development.

Milinkovich described how vendors have not effectively implemented Web services standards in a truly "open" manner in their development tools. Commercial tools often have different implementations or "interpretations" of standards, requiring end users to perform interoperability testing. Proprietary extensions to these implementations create further vendor lock-in.

Eclipse, an open platform for tool integration, provides a free open source alternative.

Nobody cares if 20 vendors implement a standard. Customers care about how a vendor differentiates their product on top of the standards. Openness prevents any one vendor from wielding control.
Mike Milinkovich
Executive DirectorEclipse.org

But Eclipse is more than just a development platform. It is also an open source community comprised of 35 open source projects, and what Milinkovich referred to as the "Eclipse ecosystem," a consortium of nine software vendors, 62 add-in providers, 14 associate members (publishers, research institutes and standards organizations) and a community of about 390 open source committees.

Eclipse became an independent, nonprofit corporation last February, focusing on driving the platform's evolution for software development offerings and end users.

"We need tools that touch every aspect of the development lifecycle: modeling, design, development, testing, deployment, monitoring and management," Milinkovich said. He thinks that vendors have been unable to deliver such a tool.

"With Eclipse, you can choose each element of the lifecycle in the form of plug-ins that all fit into a common platform," he said.

Eclipse, which was born when IBM open sourced a portion of its WebSphere Application Development platform code base, is more than just a Java development environment, according to Milinkovich. "We have language development tools for C+, Cobol, Perl, Python; Eclipse supports a multi-language environment and all your favorite operating systems," he said.

Part of the reason Eclipse has been so successful is because it has the backing of a large, passionate developer community.

"Key projects like Linux, Open Office and Eclipse have a lot of traction, but there are a lot more projects on SourceForge that don't go anywhere because they lack critical mass," said an IT manager from the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles.

During a Java Community Process keynote panel at the conference, Pradipa Karbhari, a software consultant for Haliburton, said developers should not have to worry whether or not a product supports standards.

The Haliburton application uses SAP and Oracle in the back end and runs Oracle 9i Application Server in the middle tier. For development, the team uses Borland's JBuilder.

Karbhari was concerned whether all the different vendors support standards in the same fashion. She felt that her developers need to know this especially since their application is being developed and run on such a vast array of platforms.

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Despite the classic battle between open source and commercial products, there is also a point at which the two converge and mutually benefit one another.

"The Eclipse extensible frameworks allow people to build products on Eclipse which can't be done through open source alone," Milinkovich said. "Open source implementations of standards-based runtimes, tools and testing frameworks are vital to the pervasion of Web services."

There are numerous examples of Eclipse-based products such as SAP NetWeaver Studio, Borland Together Edition for Eclipse, Oracle's BPEL Process Manager and IBM's WBI framework.

"Open source allows vendors to share the cost and risk of implementing open standards. Nobody cares if 20 vendors implement a standard," Milinkovich said. "Customers care about how a vendor differentiates their product on top of the standards. Openness prevents any one vendor from wielding control. This is the power of open innovation."

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