At EclipseCon: Booch, techies define Eclipse

What is Eclipse? Officially, Eclipse is defined as an "open universal platform for tools integration." But in talking to some software industry leaders at EclipseCon, the Eclipse organization's first technical conference held at the Disneyland Hotel last week, a larger vision emerged.

Skip McGaughey, spokesperson for, sees it as an "ecosystem" for software developers to work within.

"It's a IDE with a heart," noted Christopher Keene, CEO at Persistence Software, a San Mateo, Calif.-vendor that is offering an MDA plug-in for Eclipse.

Michael Tiemann, CTO at Red Hat Inc., believes it is a technological "tipping point" that will fundamentally impact computing in ways similar to the creation of the World Wide Web and the development of Linux.

Perhaps the largest vision of Eclipse came from Grady Booch, the legendary co-founder and chief scientist at Rational Corp., and now an IBM fellow. "Eclipse represents an economic as well as a social phenomenon," he told ADT.

He said software tools and operating systems have become economic commodities, which may make them less innovative in themselves but opens the door to greater innovation.

"There is a maturation of the tools marketplace," Booch said. "We sort of know that basic set of tools everyone needs. There exists a language in the form of Java that is reasonably widespread enough that demands those tools. And there is a body of people who have been creating those kinds of tools that has come together in open-source ways and wishes to deliver those tools. Thus, Eclipse was born."

But in Booch's view, that isn't the half of it. "The great thing about Eclipse is that because of the commoditization of the marketplace, we can now do more interesting things because we don't have to build the basic things anymore."

If it is harder for vendors to make money selling basic software tools in a market undermined by open-source downloads, that doesn't worry Booch. "I don't view it as a downside at all. It's an opportunity because it forces the rest of the marketplace to keep adding value to what those things are," he said. "And that's precisely what we see the economic value to be."

Booch, who referred to himself as a humanist geek, sees the community emerging around Eclipse addressing a fundamental problem in software development. "If you look at the problem of developing software, it always has been and will always be fundamentally hard," he noted.

Taking a concept that exists in the human brain and transforming it into software that will run on a PC is too difficult to ever be made easy, Booch asserted. As software development becomes more complex, the days of the lone programmer are going the way of the Lone Ranger.

"Building software today is a team sport," he explained. "It involves many different stakeholders beyond the code warrior -- not to say cutting code isn't important. But to build that code requires the activities in an enterprise space of domain experts, graphics experts, human factors folks, network engineers and security engineers. And weaving them all together is a wicked problem."

Solving that problem takes a village.

"Getting those people to work together on a common platform, which is what Eclipse [is], provides some of that unification for the team," Booch said

"One of the moves we see afoot is what I'm calling collaborative development environments," Booch said in an interview after his keynote. "With development as a team sport, you often see teams -- especially with the economics of outsourcing -- that are distributed in time and space. And yet we know that the best development teams are those that jelled in spirit. How then do you get groups that are geographically dispersed to act as if they are one? You can apply some automation to it in the form of a common collaborative environment that provides a common developer experience. Eclipse is well poised for that."

For more Eclipse news, go to ADT Eclipse Page

About the Author

Rich Seeley is Web Editor for Campus Technology.

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