Man, we’re sure doing a lot of navel gazing on Planet Eclipse about the future of Eclipse, thanks a lot to Bjorn’s own navel gazing. I’m not sure why we are doing this since I am sure that Mike and the gang do that quite a lot themselves already and I’m not sure we’re helping.

Anyway, I think it is a natural process to go through at this stage of Eclipse’s life. Since the original consortium was created back in November 2001 (according to wikipedia, but I think that’s pretty accurate), the software industry has changed a lot as you’d expect in 7+ years. Open source was pretty new back then and it was a bold move by IBM to start this thing. And, at the time, having an organization to promote and manage the growth Eclipse was critical to it’s success. It made open source friendly to companies that feared it and it really pushed them into a new way of thinking.

Fast forward to today, there’s no doubting that open source is now, not only accepted, but for many companies, it’s the preferred way of working, especially on commodity platforms. Companies that used to play commercially in that space have moved on to higher ground or found niches to sell their wares, or disappeared all together, or are Microsoft. Open source is a commercial force, no matter what the Free Software people would like to think.

So what does this mean for Eclipse? I’m not sure. And that’s why I am appreciating the navel gazing going on. What should it mean?

That made me wonder about Linux. Yes, it has a Foundation, but in the timeline of Linux, that’s actually a fairly new development. Linux survived for years as a free software project. But if you look at the latest stats that I found (Apr 2008), you’ll see that more that 3/4’s of Linux development is done by developers that work for commercial vendors that have a vested interest in it. Surprisingly 9% of that development is by IBM.

I think it’s pretty easy to imagine that if horrible things came to pass and the Foundation ceased to exist, Eclipse would live on. And for the same reasons Linux has. Too many companies have a vested interest in it to leave it for dead. And yes, the larger companies would want some sort of insurance against bad things, so you’ll always need a Foundation, just like Linux has.

But how influential should that Foundation and the members that support it be in the day to day operation of Eclipse developers? Right now, it’s a lot. The freedom of developers is very restricted relative to other open source projects. For some, it’s even more restrictive than what their employers allow. And, sure, it’s less restrictive than many commercially sponsored open source projects (OpenOffice comes to mind). But where are we on the open source project health scale? Or does that matter at all? Are things really all that bad right now?

No, no solution to the navel gazing here, and I guess more questions than answers. But it is a good time to think about it. Or maybe, I’m just doing my own navel gazing…