January 2010

Q. How can a community be considered "open source" if its primary objective is to promote commercialization?

A. Recently, we saw probably more conversation than any of us wanted about the notion that Eclipse is a trade association and therefore not an open source community. I believe that perspective to be misguided as it implies those two states are somehow mutually exclusive. They are not. And it is our community’s embrace of both that makes Eclipse unique.

The Eclipse Foundation is and always will be a trade association. It is also and always will be an open source community. This duality is built into our bylaws, our organization and, I would assert, our DNA. Consider the following sentence from the first paragraph of our Bylaws: "The purpose of Eclipse Foundation Inc., (the “Eclipse Foundation”), is to advance the creation, evolution, promotion, and support of the Eclipse Platform and to cultivate both an open source community and an ecosystem of complementary products, capabilities, and services."

That sentence captures the very essence of the Eclipse Foundation. Our mission is to both move the technology and community forward and to work on its commercialization. The “trade association” of member companies financially support the operations of the Eclipse Foundation. Over 70 of them also provide committers who work on projects. There are relatively few obligations that an Eclipse member company undertakes when they sign the membership agreement, but one of the most important is to create a commercial offering based on Eclipse technologies. It is that obligation which completes the loop from open source to commercialization to trade association and back. Those trade association members are not strangers: they are companies that are intimately involved in and committed to the success of the entire Eclipse community.

There is no doubt that the focus on commercialization places added burdens on Eclipse projects. Our development and intellectual property processes require real work to comply with. But there is value in that labour, and the value is in the added use, adoption, commercialization and plain old respect that the Eclipse brand brings to a project. Not every Eclipse-based open source project needs to be hosted at the Foundation. For some projects, our processes may be too heavyweight. But those projects are still a valuable part of the broader Eclipse ecosystem.

The Eclipse community is also an open development community. I strongly believe that our development process has all of the attributes of openness, transparency and meritocracy that open development requires. Our unique approach to open source development is what enables things like the annual release train, which is arguably the best run, most predictable feat of software engineering on the planet. And let’s not forget that although many projects at Eclipse are supported by developers working at member companies, there are also many projects with active participants who are here as individuals.

But there is also no denying that we have our challenges. Every project would love to have more resources and more community involvement. We need to make it easier for newcomers to contribute. There are projects who frankly don’t do a great job of welcoming contributions. We have to attract more resources committed to evolving the core platform. We have a major new release of the platform coming next year. The staff and the Board of the Eclipse Foundation recognize all of these challenges and are working very hard to address them.

The balance between a trade association and an open source community makes Eclipse unique in the software industry. We have always been both, and that has always been an important part of our success. We are different, and in my mind that is a very good thing. I believe that we should all be very proud of the organization that we have created.

This Q&A is based on a blog post that was originally published on the Life at Eclipse blog. You can read the orginal post here.


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