No where's that open source hat?

One of the points from my EclipseCon talk on building communities was “Wear two hats.” Essentially, to successfully attract new contributions, you have to show that you are working in the best interest of the project as a whole. Of course, you also need to make sure the project is meeting the commercial needs of the vendor you work for or else that might not last long.

This is something I’ve done always in my life at Eclipse. At times, I may have been too much with the open source hat and not enough commercial, but I always had a team with me to compensate for that so it worked out. I do believe that has been one of the main reasons the CDT project has been so successful growing a diverse community.

But as the CDT matures and the vendors who have made big investments in CDT reduce that investment to allow their developers to work on other things that are more important now, I get worried about how we’re going to finish off things off. The CDT build system still needs a lot of work to undo and clean up some of the architectural decisions of the past. There are a few guys interested in helping, but these guys are just part-timers, not the dedicate investment we need to be successful.

All I have to hope on is that vendors will put on their open source hat and work for the common good. In theory, working with other such vendors to build a kick-ass build system would help them in the long run and should be cheaper, since they are benefiting from the investment from the other vendors.

But “theory” isn’t a place we all live in and few vendors have the vision and long term planning to see that formula work. In fact, what makes it worse, is that vendors tend to see their “improvements” over base Eclipse functionality as a competitive advantage over the free Eclipse. And, trust me, I have seen first hand the view that the freely available Eclipse eats at the bottom line. And there is some validity in that since you can’t charge the premiums for development tools that you used to, or so customers believe anyway.

It was a lot easier in the early days of Eclipse when everything was new and everyone needed development tools, especially on the C/C++ space. The vendors that kicked off the CDT found it easy to wear the open source hat because they really needed the help. Everyone fears the elephant in the room, so don’t be one.

But now that the development tools are “good enough” the investment is no longer there to take it to the next level to make them “best in class”. And as much as users of the free Eclipse see the deficiencies and raise bugzillas to have those deficiencies fixed, I have to feel for them.

As long as Eclipse is staffed solely by vendors making money on Eclipse-base product, the free one isn’t going to be great. Now, also in that magical place called “theory”, an Eclipse.com funded to do development would help as much as Mozilla.com helps Firefox. But it doesn’t work that way in the Eclipse ecosystem and that makes the poor project lead who likes to wear the open source hat wonder whether it’s worth it anymore.