Sun's absence won't deter Java open-source development

Open source project Eclipse took a blow last week when Sun decided to drop its membership, but experts say progress toward a development standard will continue.

Sun Microsystems Inc.'s departure from the Eclipse open source project is a blow to Java development, but not one that is expected to have any long-term consequences -- unless, of course, Sun's absence is permanent.

For iSeries developers considering moving off RPG to the Java programming language, the impact, if any, will be minor.

Sun announced its departure from the open source tools effort last week. The company cited technical and organizational differences over the use of its open source IDE framework, NetBeans.

The Eclipse open source project is an IBM-backed consortium that has gained momentum since its inception in 2001. Members include Red Hat Inc. and SuSE Linux AG and several development tools companies, such as Borland Software Corp. Eclipse is expected to become a nonprofit organization sometime early next year.

Both Eclipse and NetBeans are open source projects intent on developing software that would allow several different Java development tools to work essentially as one -- allowing a developer to use source code from one vendor's tool and an XML editor from another's, for example.

The group's inability to come to an agreement is disappointing to a lot of people who have worked hard on this effort, but most are hopeful this is just a temporary setback, said analyst Steve O'Grady of the research firm RedMonk, in Bath, Maine.

The real losers here are the ISVs and developers who are going to have to chose to use one platform or another, he said.

"They don't have the time or inclination to support both," he said.

More damaging to the open source movement, however, is the fact that, unless Sun comes back into the fold, the industry will end up with two dueling open source Java tools efforts -- which weakens any leverage the groups have against Microsoft and its .NET line of development tools.

"Microsoft is still the market leader, and this does nothing to alter that -- it just sets it back," O'Grady said.

O'Grady added that, ideally, the group would deliver a combination of Eclipse and NetBeans as a single standard.

Skip McGaughey, chairman of the Eclipse board, said he's hopeful that Sun's departure is temporary.

"While Sun decided at this point and time [to leave], I'm convinced they're dedicated to this environment and [that] we will continue to collaborate and work together," McGaughey said.

McGaughey added that, in the meantime, developers will continue to work on solving interoperability problems.

"This will eventually work itself out," McGaughey said. "It's too expensive to build the same platform over and over again. You cannot continue to have the kind of development that is propriety."

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