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1/30/2004
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Sun Reaches Out To Eclipse In Effort To End Disputes Over Java

Sun, which has been in conflict with IBM over Java standards, wrote a letter urging togetherness in the face of the common enemy.

Sun Microsystems called an uneasy truce in its Java war with IBM late Thursday in an open letter to IBM's soon-to-be-independent Eclipse organization.

In the letter, Sun strongly encouraged the group, which promotes the Eclipse open-source integrated development environment (IDE), to use their power to unite the Java community while continuing to promote diversity among Java software vendors and individual developers.

At the same time, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun used the letter to promote its own vested interest in a competing IDE, NetBeans, and the open-source NetBeans project Sun oversees.

The letter, sent late Thursday, comes only several days before the first EclipseCon conference, which will be held beginning Monday in Anaheim, Calif. At that conference on Wednesday, Eclipse is expected to formally announce its new charter as an independent open-source group, The Eclipse Foundation, spinning off from IBM, CRN previously reported.

In the letter, Sun pointed to commonalities between Eclipse and the Java Tools Community (JTC), an effort formed several weeks ago and aimed at providing standards for interoperability between Java tools. The JTC will work in conjunction with the Java Community Process (JCP), which is supervised by Sun and creates Java standards.

Sun stressed that the main goal of both groups was to promote the use of Java against other major development platforms--namely, Microsoft .Net.

"First and foremost, the main goal for all of us in the Java development community is to achieve the strongest possible technology and market position for the Java platform," the letter stated. "The big picture is a Java technology solution that ensures no 'lock in' to a given platform, one that generates competitive markets and technologies, and one based on standards. That way developers, deployers and consumers continue to have choice and benefit from technological diversity."

Some have criticized the Sun-overseen JCP for slowing down the evolution of Java and giving Microsoft the upper hand with developers. This is because Microsoft tools are widely believed to be easier to use, particularly by third-party vendors that integrate with them. Microsoft alone is the steward of the APIs for its development platform. Standard Java APIs, on the other hand, are decided by committee in the JCP.

IBM formed the Eclipse group in November 2002 to promote the Eclipse IDE as a way to unite disparate developer tools in a common framework to facilitate Java development in general, as well as promote its own Java developer tools, which have since rebuilt on the framework. The Somers, N.Y.-based vendor has been the major financial backer of the group and has driven most of the technology created by Eclipse.org.

Now that the group will no longer be under IBM's thumb, there was some industry speculation that Sun--which has opted not to join because of what many see as a longstanding power struggle with IBM over the control of Java--might change its mind.

Other leading Java software and tools vendors--such as Macromedia, Oracle and even IBM's staunchest competitor, BEA Systems--are Eclipse members.

In the letter, Sun said that to join Eclipse as it is now would require that group to build its Java tools on the framework, which would be a direct diversion from Sun's current strategy to base its Java tools on NetBeans.

"The required mandatory transition to the Eclipse platform would inhibit development of innovative technologies like the Sun Java Studio Creator product [code-named Project Rave] and require a reconstruction of all of our existing tools," according to the letter. "Any entry criteria requiring that Sun abandon the NetBeans open-source platform directly conflicts with the concept of choice and diversity, the very bases that gave Eclipse its beginning."

Because of this factor, Sun will not join the group at this time, but "would be happy to reconsider" if the situation changes, according to the letter.

In the meantime, Sun would like to work alongside Eclipse to promote Java as a development platform and continue to find ways to broaden Java's appeal to as many developers as possible, the letter stated.

"We hope in the near future to find a solution that benefits both the Eclipse and NetBeans communities--in very visible, open ways--where Sun can be an open contributor to Eclipse, and Eclipse can do the same for the NetBeans platform," according to the letter. "In that manner, technology and IP can flow more freely so that both communities benefit. This tight alignment ensures that the Java platform wins."

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