Thursday, September 30, 2004


Big Blue may have handed off the Eclipse reins a year and a half ago, but it certainly hasn't backed off of the technology at all. Next to come out of the pipeline is Atlantic, the latest version of IBM's Rational development tools suite that's built entirely on the Eclipse IDE. Eclipse News contributing editor Jill Aitoro recently interviewed Lee Nackman, vice president of desktop tools and CTO of Rational, about IBM's strategy for Eclipse.

Eclipse News: Can you tell me a little bit about your background leading up to your current position with IBM Rational?

Nackman: I spent 16 years working in the IBM research division before joining the IBM software group and getting involved with WebSphere. I initiated the project that became Eclipse and the WebSphere Studio product built on top of Eclipse. We acquired Rational, combining together the Rational team and the WebSphere Studio team, and I became the CTO and vice president responsible for developing these Eclipse-based tools that we call Atlantic.

Eclipse News: Before we get into that, let's talk about Eclipse as an IBM strategy. How much of the current support was part of the game plan when IBM first donated the WebSphere Studio Workbench? Did you envision this degree of integration within the product lines?

Nackman: I think it's fair to say that Eclipse has succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. We originally started to build Eclipse as an integrated platform for IBM's application development tools. But the enthusiasm and the adoption of Eclipse both as a Java IDE and a tool platform by the external community has just been enormous. One of the real advantages to an open source project like this is the rapid growth of an ecosystem that happens once people decide, 'okay, this is good.' More and more contribute, more and more exploit it, and it snowballs. That happens both within IBM and more significantly in the larger software development community.

Eclipse News: So success breeds success.

Nackman: It's that virtuous cycle -- feedback accelerates the building of the ecosystem, because people want to do more and make it even better. It's been great.

Eclipse News: What's the current rundown of the products from IBM leveraging Eclipse?

Nackman: I don't know if I could even list them all. Certainly all of the WebSphere Studio products leverage Eclipse; the Lotus Workplace products; some database tools from the DB2 product line, as well as some of the runtimes that have the Eclipse Modeling Framework inside -- though you wouldn't see it. The [Rational Rose XDE Developer for Java] product is built on Eclipse, and there are plug-ins to support the [Rational ClearCase] and [XDE Tester] products. At the Rational Software Development User Conference, we announced Atlantic, the suite of tools built entirely on Eclipse that will be available late this year. I gave a demonstration of that technology in front of more than 2,000 people, and there was quite a bit of enthusiasm.

Eclipse News: Can you tell me a bit more about Atlantic?

Nackman: There are people who take on various roles in an enterprise. Their work has to be coordinated by some unifying platform. The Atlantic release will bring with it a complete integrated set of plug-ins that support the different roles associated with building software. IBM's strategy for enabling that integration was to build all necessary tool functionality on top of Eclipse and call it the IBM Software Development Platform. Eclipse enables the notion of role-based user interfaces, as well as the ability for different tools to share common models through the Eclipse Modeling Framework -- EMF. Also important is the ability for people to extend these tools through the Eclipse plug-in mechanism. Customers can extend our products for their specialized needs and also take advantage of the many other vendor plug-ins that offer added functionality.

Eclipse News: Where was the demand? What was the user community asking for that spurred this unified platform environment?

Nackman: The users are asking for tools that will let them more quickly develop applications that meet particular business needs. At the show, for example, I demonstrated how the new JavaServer Faces technology could be used together with Web services to quickly add a Web page to a weather application. It's drag-and-drop; adding that kind of capability to an application without having to write a lot of glue code. Think about the different roles -- you can start at the analyst view, where there's a close connection to understanding the business needs. If you move on to the role of the developer, there's still a need to understand the business needs, but there's also a desire to exploit technology for quickly building applications. The Software Development Platform accommodates the whole spectrum of users with customizable functionality and interfaces.

Eclipse News: The Software Development Platform seems to expand beyond the traditional developer to almost incorporate the whole enterprise.

Nackman: Some think of Eclipse as a really great java IDE. And that's true. But Eclipse is really intended to be a more broadly scoped tools platform. We're using it in that way -- not just aiming it at developers writing Java or C++.

Eclipse News: Theoretically, other players in the industry could develop products that compete with those offered by IBM right in the same environment. In that sense, what are your thoughts on how Eclipse affects the competitive climate?

Nackman: This is a great thing for customers in the following sense: it says that the vendors are going to compete on the things that add real value. We're not going to compete on the basic IDE. Instead, we're all going to build on it and compete with additional functionality. The customers win that way. Obviously, IBM Rational has market-leading products; but if customers want to use competitive or open source technology, they can. I think that's what makes Eclipse really interesting. Its evolution will be driven by the needs of vendors building products and also by the needs of those using the environment as consumers. The key message moving forward is that IBM will continue to take full advantage of what Eclipse provides: the necessary integration, the extensibility, and the openness.

Read complete interview. . .

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