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Is Eclipse the Commercial IDE Killer?

Has the traditional integrated development environment gone the way of the dinosaur? The company that invented the IDE seems to think so...sort of.

According to two execs from Borland Software, the advent and widespread acceptance of the open-source Eclipse platform may not have the bang of a dino-dooming meteor, but it's already having a profound impact on the tools market, and may very well change it forever.

"Eclipse creates an opportunity for vendors to stop competing on low-value, multiply implemented, ever-commoditized features and creates an opportunity for higher value solutions," said Borland's CTO Patrick Kerpan. "We see a renaissance of development capabilities coming."

Speaking at the recent EclipseCon conference in a session, titled "The Death of the IDE-Long Live the IDE," Kerpan and Borland's chief evangelist, David Intersimone, suggested that the Eclipse framework could serve as a kind of bridge spanning the various software engineering "epochs." Past epochs have seen toolmakers focus on productivity, and then performance, and most recently, collaboration, Intersimone observed. As an open-source framework, Eclipse is likely to eliminate the need for constant reinvention in this market.

"As each epoch change came, we've rewritten debuggers, compilers, etc.," Intersimone said. "Eclipse may be the end of the constant retooling that many of us have gone through."

"Every time we've crossed one of these epochs," Kerpan added, "we've had to invest R&D dollars to keep up with features and weren't able to address the problems that were right in front of us."

The Eclipse open-source project grew out of technology first developed by IBM to serve as a universal platform for integrating software development tools. IBM open-sourced that code, which is now managed by the Eclipse Foundation. The list of member companies includes, among others, Computer Associates, Oracle, Red Hat, Novell, SAP, and JBoss Inc., among others. IBM is still a member, and one of the biggest code contributors.

The number of companies jumping on the Eclipse bandwagon has been growing at a furious pace since it gained official independence from IBM last year. Twenty-six companies joined the Eclipse Foundation in 2004, bumping that organization's roster to 82 members, including strategic developers, add-in providers, and associate members.

Borland, which was one of the founding members of the foundation, recently signed on as a strategic developer, joining such companies as BEA, Sybase, and others, who have signed on increased their involvement with the Eclipse platform.

"Once it is a platform game," Kerpan said, "it's time for Borland to add value to the platform, just like we do for WebSphere, Visual Studio, [and other products]. The IDE is commoditized, so you have to deliver higher value up the stack."

The Scotts Valley, CA-based Borland, creator of JBuilder and other popular development tools, launched the first IDE, Turbo Pascal, more than 20 years ago.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at john@watersworks.com.

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