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Eclipse Modeling Maven Merks on EMF

So, I'm talking recently with Mike Milinkovich, exec director of the Eclipse Foundation, about this year's ginormous Eclipse Release Train -- 39 projects, 33 million lines of code -- when he mentions that, of the 490 committers, 108 were individuals. That seemed like a lot of unaffiliated code contributors to me, but he said that this was a growing trend.

"The bulk of these individuals are focused on a couple of areas in Eclipse, particularly modeling," he told me. "Lots of individuals are contributing to the Eclipse modeling project, I think in part because they can make a bit of a reputation for themselves within the Eclipse modeling community and make a living through consulting by leveraging what they've built at Eclipse. That sort of small-scale individual ecosystem is starting to become very prevalent in parts of the broader Eclipse community."

He then pointed me to Dr. Ed Merks, who has been the technical lead of the Eclipse Modeling Framework (EMF) project from its inception. EMF is a subproject of the top-level Eclipse Modeling project, which Merks also leads.

Merks worked for IBM about 18 years, and he was there when Big Blue bought Object Technology International (OTI) and began developing Eclipse. At the time, he was working on some modeling-related technology that would eventually become the EMF.

Two years ago, Merks left IBM, moved back to his hometown of Vancouver, and struck out on his own with a one-man firm called Macro Modeling. He now helps clients to "exploit the power of the open source software available at Eclipse in general and the best-of-breed technology of the Eclipse Modeling Project in particular.

He says he's making a good living as an EMF consultant -- better than he thought he would. He's got some good clients. He's the modeling project lead for Itemis, a German company focused on IT-industrialization and model-driven software development. And he's also working with CloudSmith porting the EMF runtime to the Google Widget Toolkit.

Merk agrees with Milinkovich about the rise in individual contributors to the EMF project. "I think there's room for exponential growth," he says. "I'm seeing the big players like IBM and Borland have stepped aside, and the smaller players and individuals have a lot of room to push this stuff forward. There really is no good open alternative to the EMF."

But he adds that European companies are currently much more interested in modeling than U.S. companies. "Modeling generally has a bad reputation in North America, because it's associated with the OMG and UML, and it's seen as this heavyweight, model-driven architecture," he says. "People are highly resistant to it -- which I understand. When I started, I didn't like the stuff, either. But the thinking has evolved, and there a lot of misconceptions about it that I spend a lot of time correcting."

And yet interest in EMF is growing among U.S. defense contractors and NASA, Merks says. He also points out that EMF is used by a large and growing number of Eclipse projects, including XML Schema Definition (XSD), Unified Modeling Language (UML), and Web Tools project (WTP). And related projects, including the Graphical Modeling Framework project (GMF) and the Generative Modeling Tools project (GMT), are adding to the Eclipse Modeling project. "It's like an onion now, with many layers and EMF at its core."

Book plug: Merks is also co-author of "EMF: Eclipse Modeling Framework (2nd Edition)," which he wrote with Dave Steinberg, Frank Budinsky and Marcelo Paternostro.

Posted by John K. Waters on June 30, 2010