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The Vision for Eclipse: An Interview with Mike Milinkovich

Mike has fielded questions on some more current and topical subjects, as well as given us his insights onto the future

Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, has been kind enough to answer some questions for Enterprise Open Source Magazine. Rather than rattle off the usual ones about the name, about why Swing wasn't used, or how much influence IBM still has, Mike has fielded questions on some more current and topical subjects, as well as given us his insights onto the future. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Mike.

View Milinkovich on SYS-CON.TV

EOSM: The Eclipse Foundation recently joined the Java Community Process. Can you tell us how this is going and what you expect to get out of this, as well as give to the JCP?

Mike Milinkovich: Yes, we recently joined the JCP, as we also joined the OSGi Alliance and OMG. The reason for joining these organizations is that the Eclipse community relies heavily on the standards that are produced by these standards organization, so we wanted to show our support.

As for the JCP specifically, we are planning to contribute in a couple of different areas, the most immediate example being the use of the Eclipse Equinox code as the reference implementation for JSR291.

EOSM: At this year's EclipseCon I felt that the amount of interest in RCP had surpassed the amount of interest in the actual IDE. Do you think this is the case, and if so does this change the dynamics of Eclipse's strategy and direction to become more of a general-purpose application platform and less of a development environment?

Milinkovich: Yes, I agree the Eclipse community and the industry as a whole has moved toward viewing Eclipse as an application platform. We are seeing a lot of interest and adoption of RCP and also projects such as Equinox, RAP, and Higgins. However, this is not new as we have had a conscious strategy to move Eclipse beyond just being a Java IDE for several years now. I believe what we are seeing is quite simply that a number of the newer projects within the Eclipse community are becoming more mature and are enjoying greater interest and adoption as a result. The vision for Eclipse has always been about being a complete platform for software development and I think we are well on the way.

However, I do continue to see a lot of interest in Eclipse as a tools platform. We have new projects for providing IDEs for dynamic languages such as Ruby and PHP. The AJAX Toolkit Framework (ATF) is attracting a lot of interest as a tooling platform for AJAX developers. CDT, our C/C++ IDE, has great momentum as being the C/C++ IDE for embedded and Linux development. In my opinion, Mylar is one of the most innovative new developer technologies to come about in a long time.

Therefore, I don't really see a large change in strategy or direction; I see it more as a journey and evolution. This is what makes Eclipse such a vibrant and interesting community.

EOSM: JSR 291 ratified the OSGi Java module mechanism used by Eclipse to become part of the Java language specification. Can you see the same occurring with SWT?

Milinkovich: I haven't seen any interest from the community in putting SWT into the JCP process. It is not that I don't think it would be an interesting idea but someone would have to step up to spend the considerable amount of time required to take it through the process.

EOSM: How do you manage the relationship between the Eclipse board members, some of whom are fierce competitors in the commercial marketplace, yet need to collaborate for the good of the platform?

Milinkovich: Interestingly, this has been mostly a non-issue to date. I've been really very happy with how collegial and effective the Board of the Eclipse Foundation has been.
That said, I think you have already identified the answer; there is a common need for a strong, stable platform for building all sorts of different software. Eclipse is providing this platform and it really becomes a unifying force at the Board and through-out the community. The other thing is that the Eclipse governance model is proving to be very good at managing the different interests that participate in Eclipse. All the organizations have an equal say at the Board level and the principles of meritocracy and transparency help resolve a lot of the issues within the projects.

EOSM: What excites you most about what is going on with Eclipse at the moment?

Milinkovich: Europa, our next release, is going to be pretty exciting. We have over 22 projects lined up for the annual release train, so a lot of new stuff is getting ready for release. Our annual release trains are very important for the entire Eclipse community. First of all, they are a real testament to the committer and project community's ability to deliver on a predictable schedule. Second, they are hugely important to our adopter community as they use the projects to deliver their commercial products or open source projects.

I think the growing involvement of Eclipse in the world of Equinox-based OSGi runtimes - such as the EclipseLink persistence project recently proposed by Oracle - is cool as well. Over the next 12-18 months we are going to see a lot of new stuff being built with Equinox.

EOSM: What worries you most about what is going on with Eclipse at the moment?

Milinkovich: I'm not sure that "worried" is the right word, but I would like to see vertical market frameworks (e.g., banking frameworks, health care frameworks) being developed as Eclipse open source projects. This will require enterprises to become more involved with contributing to open source projects and it is something that I think will take time. We have a great start with the Eclipse Open Healthcare Framework (OHF) but we need to do more to encourage large enterprises to begin collaborating in open source projects.

EOSM: NetBeans seems to be gaining a lot of traction at the moment, especially with some of the emerging and BRIC markets. What is Eclipse doing in this space to keep up?

Milinkovich: This is a funny question since we are finding the BRIC countries to be our highest growth areas. Our downloads from China are just exploding; Evans Data recently reported our usage grew 30% in India and 20% in Brazil. It is nice to hear that NetBeans is doing well but I certainly don't feel like we need to keep up. In fact, I believe we are leading in the BRIC countries.

EOSM: There is talk that Eclipse 4.0 will be a major rethink of the platform and how it is put together. Can you share with us what's going on here?

Milinkovich: To be honest, everything about Eclipse 4.0 is conjecture at this point. EclipseCon was the first time the idea had even been discussed by the community and not only are there no concrete plans yet for 4.0, there isn't even yet a firm commitment that it is going to happen. Of course, I think it will, but it is definitely too early for me to speculate what may or may not be in it.

What is going on at this point is the beginning of a process - a community process to decide whether doing a major new release - quite possibly with some API breakages - is the right thing to do for our broad ecosystem.

EOSM: If you could do Eclipse all over again, what would you do differently and why?

Milinkovich: First, please remember, I did not "do" Eclipse. A lot of people spent a considerable amount of time and energy establishing Eclipse long before I appeared on the scene in 2004. I have just been lucky enough to be involved in the implementation of the vision they set out.

Things are working remarkably well, so I am not sure I would change anything. It is my belief Eclipse has become a place where many organizations can collaborate and innovate on interesting new technology. I truly believe Eclipse has the right technology, architecture, and governance to make it an important platform for future software innovation for many years to come.

More Stories By Joe Winchester

Joe Winchester, Editor-in-Chief of Java Developer's Journal, was formerly JDJ's longtime Desktop Technologies Editor and is a software developer working on development tools for IBM in Hursley, UK.

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