Do we need Eclipse "Products?"

There has been an interesting discussion on the Eclipse Planning Council mailing list over the last few days. We are planning the Ganymede release scheduled for June of ’08 and as part of that, we are trying to integrate an expressed desire by the Eclipse Board of Directors via the Eclipse Foundation that projects meet a number of requirements that raise the quality of Eclipse across the board.

This has caused some confusion and some misdirected passion (of sorts). Given that the Eclipse governance model has the committers, the people elected to make code changes, as the only people who have the power to make code changes, and that the Foundation and Board have no real power over the committers, other than those employed by Board members, and other than to hold up the IP review process that governs getting 3rd party submissions into Eclipse, how do we get these requirements to happen?

My favorite solution at the moment is to create a “carrot” instead of some sort of “stick”. Something for projects to aspire to. Something that gets a bit of glory in the community. That idea is to take the existing Eclipse packages, such as the Eclipse C/C++ IDE, possibly adding others, and treat them as real commercial products (still free and open mind you). For those of you who aren’t heavily involved in software product development, there is a whole set of tools you get with the field of product management. Some of my best friends in this industry are product managers. These are the guys who take a look at the market, talk to existing and potential customers, figure out what a successful product in that marketplace would look like, and then drive those requirements through the engineering team to make it happen.

There are a number of benefits to this, including giving the industry something to focus on when they talk about Eclipse and a higher quality product base on which vendors contributing to Eclipse can build their own products on, without having to duplicate the “productization” effort. And being the showcase of Eclipse technology, projects that want to show off their wears would put in the extra effort of complying with product requirements so that they could be included in that show case. (In theory, anyway).

But I also think that the challenge of making this work is daunting. My product manager friends will be the first to complain that they don’t have a lot of power over the engineering teams anyway, but with the Eclipse contributor co-operative that we have I don’t see much hope. There has to be a commitment from the community that this is important for Eclipse and important for themselves. But I do think we need something like it, because I do think it’s important for Eclipse and for every vendor making products based on it.