Neither SOA nor Eclipse were on many lips on Nov. 7, 2001 when the first open source code was downloaded from Eclipse.org, but service-oriented architecture and the Eclipse platform have emerged as major software industry players during the past five years and now appear on the verge of convergence.
In the five years since its first code download, Eclipse has gone from a little known IBM sponsored open source experiment to a major platform, supported by rival vendors including BEA Systems Inc.
While Eclipse will mark its fifth birthday on Tuesday, Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation Inc., the not-for-profit corporation supporting the Eclipse open source community and commercial ecosystem, says the real tipping point for the platform came in 2005. "The pivotal moment was in March of 2005, where in the space of a few short weeks BEA, Borland, Computer Associates, Sybase and Windriver all joined within 10 days of each other," he recalled "That seemed to really open the floodgates for companies to jump in and get involved with Eclipse. Up until that point a lot of people had been waiting to see if Eclipse was truly going to be successful in asserting its independence and that was the moment that made it clear to everyone that yes, Eclipse is an independent organization and these companies are putting in serious amount of resources and money to support Eclipse. That was the time when we had a real jump in the number of projects and the number of participants within the foundation."
The Eclipse Foundation was formed in January 2004 and declared its independence from IBM at that time, although Big Blue remains a major contributor to the organization. Today the foundation has 152 vendor members and more than 750 committers working on 66 projects.
"There are literally thousands of products that are built on top of Eclipse," Milinkovich said, adding that since Nov. 7, 2001, there have been millions of downloads of Eclipse code. "We haven't quite gotten to the billions they say on the Golden Arches but we're getting there," he said.
Among the projects moving forward in the Eclipse process is Eclipse SOA Tools Platform (STP), which Milinkovich expects to be ready for developers to download in the first half of 2007. It will add SOA development to the overall Eclipse ecosystem, which Milinkovich claims has only one peer and real competitor.
"We really have become a ubiquitous platform for developer tools integration," he said. "I think it's fair to say that there's really two pervasive platforms for tooling out there today, Eclipse being one and Microsoft Visual Studio being the other."
This assessment is in line with the prediction of Richard Monson-Haefel, senior analyst with the Burton Group, and author of the controversial report this past summer on the shortcoming of the latest Java platform, "JEE5: The Beginning of the End of Java EE." He predicted that developers would increasingly turn to Eclipse or Microsoft for tools, including those for SOA.
Milinkovich said he was not familiar with that report or the controversy involving JEE5 and its main sponsor, Sun Microsystems Inc., which is notable for being the major Java vendor that is not a member of Eclipse.
James Governor, principal analyst and founder of the RedMonk LLC firm, sees the architecture of Eclipse dovetailing with the approach of SOA and competing with the Microsoft .NET platform.
"It's in lifecycle and rich client that Eclipse will increasingly compete with .NET for enterprise workloads," Governor said. "SOA is all about modular componentry, formal architecture and standardization, all of which Eclipse talks to."
However, not every analyst sees Eclipse as ideal for SOA developers. While acknowledging that "Eclipse has become a dominant force in Java application development platforms and is helping to shape the industry," Michael Goulde, an analyst with Forrester Research Inc., said developers may look at other alternatives to Microsoft, most notably the other major player in the open source Java game.
"I don't see SOA developers looking to Eclipse so much for their Microsoft alternative as they are to Apache Software Foundation," he said. He said that didn't mean SOA developers won't use Eclipse, but it won't be the only game in town.
As for the significance of this week's birthday celebration for Eclipse, which Milinkovich said will be marked by parties at watering holes around the globe, RedMonk's Governor said the emergence of Eclipse is indeed noteworthy.
"Eclipse has nothing less than refactored the software industry," Governor said. "It was the first major open source success that was led by vendors rather than the grassroots and it shows. Eclipse is an effective governance model as much as it is a technology story. It's also an economic trend that is very hard to fight."
The RedMonk analyst sees the not-for-profit Eclipse Foundation having a major impact on the current wave of acquisitions in the software tools market related to SOA.
"If acquisition targets have also built to Eclipse, they are that much easier to quickly integrate," Governor said. "The first example of an acquisition driven by Eclipse economics was IBM Rational. But there have been many others, such as recent BEA purchases such as M7."
It may not have eclipsed the competition from Sun, Microsoft and others, but at age five, Eclipse is casting a long shadow.