Eclipsing NetBeans?

Some adherents to Sun Microsystem's NetBeans are miffed at IBM's latest open-source effort, Eclipse.The NetBeans folk believe IBM should have worked on improving NetBeans, rather than starting an entirely separate development effort.

          Some adherents to Sun Microsystem's NetBeans are miffed at IBM's latest open-source effort, Eclipse.

          The problem appears to be that Eclipse has a great deal of similarity in function to NetBeans, and the NetBeans folk believe that the IT community would be better served if IBM had chosen to work on improving NetBeans, rather than starting an entirely separate development effort.

          At first blush, the logic seems strong. Would not the community benefit from developing one super application development framework, rather than wasting effort on driving two separate-but-similar tools? This logic rests on arguments of simplicity and scarcity: simplicity in that the existence of a single tool removes any confusion over what tool to use, and scarcity in that the creation of a second project would reduce the talent pool needed to develop either project to its full potential.

          In fact, neither argument plays well in the open-source world. Indigenous to this world is the concept that active competition brings increased creativity. As multiple efforts to solve a problem are developed, new and innovative approaches tend to appear. Superior solutions thrive; inferior projects eventually wither and die. But because the source is open for all to see, clever ideas that may have manifested themselves in the weaker projects will eventually appear in the stronger projects. So the strong eventually survive and thrive, assimilating any creative features of the weak.

          To this, add the postulate that as nature abhors a vacuum, open source by its nature abhors a monopoly. Very few open-source efforts exist that have not been challenged by other projects of a very similar nature. In a practice that appears to be a strange corollary to the survival of the fittest, open source actually demands that there be at least one other competitor around, at least at the beginning. (There have been exceptions to this rule, but they are relatively few in number.) After all, how can you determine which project really is the fittest if no one ever tried to do a better job?

          The talent pool in the open-source community is frequently larger than that found in private companies. This is especially true when two corporations the size of IBM and Sun are backing the respective efforts to begin with. Now add on the thousands of open-source developers who have an interest in improving these tools and the talent-scarcity argument becomes inappropriate to this particular scenario.

          So what do I think about the competition between NetBeans and Eclipse? Given the ways of open source, I think it will yield one -- if not two --development environments that will go far beyond what either entity is capable of achieving today. As in business, competition in open source can be a very good thing.

          To paraphrase Linus Torvalds, "Let the best code win."

          Are NetBeans and Eclipse on a collision course? Email Russ or let him know at The Open Source forum.

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