Galileo and the future of Eclipse

Galileo is coming. That’s the name of this year’s Eclipse release train, scheduled for Wednesday, June 24. Given the Eclipse Foundation’s reputation, I expect the train to arrive at the station on schedule.

There’s a lot of goodness in the Galileo toolchain, as you can read in Alex Handy’s story. The simultaneous release is centered around the Eclipse 3.5 integrated development environment, but has many new and updated companion tools, plug-ins and add-ons.

Some of the noteworthy additions include support for PHP 5.3, a new memory analyzer, and upgrades to the plug-in development environment. As a Mac user, I’m happy about Galileo’s use of Cocoa as an optional windowing library.

As the years roll on, Eclipse has become the dominent alternative to Microsoft’s Visual Studio. Yes, Sun’s NetBeans and Apple’s Xcode IDEs are technically excellent – and NetBeans has a strong following in the open-source world. However, neither has the breadth and reach of Eclipse.

While Mac developers favor Xcode, and Sun-centric Java developers use NetBeans, the rest of the industry has converged on Eclipse and Visual Studio. That’s it, end of story. (Even so, Apple’s support for Xcode is strong. We have no idea about Oracle’s commitment to continue investing in the NetBeans community, which is currently dominated by developers employed by Sun.)

Of course, there are many, many developers who don’t use any IDE at all, and cobble together their own toolchains. In many cases, though, their standalone tools are actually based on Eclipse, whether they know it or not. Similarly, there are branded toolchains from companies like IBM that are also based on Eclipse.

What does that mean? Potentially, as Eclipse cements its leadership role in both mindshare and market share as the platform for anyone not using Visual Studio, there is a risk of that the Eclipse team might become less competitive, or have a reduced drive for innovation. I hope that’s not the case.

A bigger concern is that the major corporate sponsors of Eclipse (whose employees make up many of its top Committers) might scale back their investment. It might be due to the economic downturn; senior architects and programmers are expensive, after all, and some might see donating so much developer time to Eclipse projects as a luxury they can’t currently afford. Also, as the Eclipse projects evolve and mature, the sponsors might require fewer new features worthy of corporate developers’ attention.

This year, the Eclipse Foundation is strong, and the Galileo release train continues a string of annual success stories. About next year: Let’s hope that the train continues to run on time.

Z Trek Copyright (c) Alan Zeichick