Sun and IBM fail to unite on open source movement


9 Dec 2003

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Sun’s decision not to join the IBM-led Eclipse effort means that the Java community has missed out on a chance to create a single open source movement, Gartner has claimed. The analyst firm has warned that the move suits the vendors at the expense of the Java developers.

According to reports last week, Sun Microsystems and IBM decided not to merge their respective open source projects, NetBeans.org and Eclipse. It is understood that both companies decided it would be too much work to combine the code bases of the two projects.

Gartner’s take on the situation is that the inability of Sun and IBM to come together indicates a growing tension and diverging strategies between efforts to govern and evolve Java standards.

Among the barriers that arose between merging the two of the largest Java open source communities was Eclipse’s introduction of a non-standard variant user interface library, which fragmented the standards supported by Sun and others. Consequently, the Eclipse and standards-based NetBeans user interfaces could not be combined into a single effort without requiring drastic rewrites for existing solutions developed by one or both communities.

Another issue was the level of formality of the processes used by these communities to develop solutions differed widely, with Eclipse being far more formal.

Finally, the cost and disruption of merging these established communities would burden all concerned.

In a research note on the subject, Gartner said: “Still, as the Eclipse community has gained traction in the market over NetBeans, Sun had a strong reason to consider the merger. Gartner believes that in the long run, this decision will hurt Sun and the Java community as a whole. Although these communities can reconcile their differences in other ways (such as to rally around the Java Tools Organisation’s effort to create interoperability standards), in the long term, both communities will forge ahead on separate tracks.

“Depending on products that support either Eclipse or NetBeans (rather than both) will align enterprises with either IBM or Sun for future product direction. The behaviour of the two groups suggests that vendors’ desires will win out to the detriment of customer needs. Thus, the fragmentation of the Java community will likely continue, and other implementations of Java features separate from the Java Community Process will emerge through the first half of 2005. Ultimately, Microsoft will perhaps benefit the most,” Gartner said.

By John Kennedy