Monday, September 11, 2006

EclipseWorld Wrap Up

Friday, September 8 was the last day of the EclipseWorld technical conference. I won't go into all the gory details of the sessions I attended. If you read my Day Two report, it was more of the same: Some sessions missed the mark, at least for me. These sessions just weren't technical enough. In fact, in an informal poll, the consensus among people who have attended both conferences is that EclipseCon is the better conference for experienced Eclipse developers.

Of course, the conference did have some good sessions. The best session I attended on Friday was called Contributing Code to Eclipse. How to. Why to. It was conducted by Bjorn Freeman-Benson, Director of the Open Source Process at the Eclipse Foundation. Bjorn described the organization of the Eclipse Foundation, the motives of it's member companies *, and the details of development process.

As Bjorn puts it, one measure of the Eclipse project's success is they have released a version of Eclipse every year, on schedule, for the past seven summers. This is a record of which most commercial software companies would be proud, but Eclipse is an open source project. You might have expected it to disintegrate into anarchy by now.

How has the project managed to be so successful? Bjorn highlighted three points:
  • It's a meritocracy. Only the best developers become Eclipse committers. Even a paying foundation member company cannot install one of their developers on a project without approval from the current committers. Generally, you become a committer by contributing patches first.
  • The process is completely transparent. Everything from project planning, to staffing, to the actual source code is recorded on the Eclipse web site. This ensures that both committers and the eventual consumers know what is happening with the project.
  • Communication is key. This is related to the point about transparency, but Bjorn highlighted it a few times. He said even a great developer will not succeed in an Eclipse project unless he is also a good communicator.
This is a refreshing approach to building software. I think some commercial software companies could learn from open source. For more on the Eclipse Way, see Erich Gamma on the Eclipse Culture.

* Eclipse Foundation members commit resources to Eclipse projects not out of altruism. They expect to make money on the Eclipse framework.

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