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Standards Killed the IDE Star

Posted by jimothy on November 11, 2003 at 3:03 PM PST

Committees never have vision. They have meetings—John C. Welch

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Sun might decide to join the Eclipse party after all. The IBM-lead project has been a bit of a thorn in Sun's side. Part of the controversy is the name itself, which Sun believes is an intentional affront (IBM denies this). But the real issue is that Sun fears they are losing their stewardship of Java and Java developers. After all, Sun wants its NetBeans to be the Java integrated development environment (IDE) community project. And IBM's Standard Widget Toolkit (SWT) is an alternative (some would say a better one) to Sun's pure-Java, but much maligned, Swing library.

According to an InfoWorld article, Sun may be willing to kiss and make up to be part the Eclipse community. But just like a year and a half ago, when IBM first extended this invitation, Sun is only willing to do so under its own terms.

According Joe Keller, Sun's vice president of Java Web Service and Tools Marketing, Sun's interest in joining the Eclipse community is to "make sure they pursue Java standards in the right way." By "the right way," of course, he means Sun's way, which involves the drawn out Java Community Process (JCP) which stifles innovation and delays product releases. First on the agenda, Sun wants the community to define a standard for IDE plugins, that could be used equally well in NetBeans as it could in Eclipse.

The question is, outside of Sun, is anyone really asking for such a standard? The paradoxical thing about standards is they force support for only the lowest common subset of functionality and while simultaneously forcing inclusion of each and every idea that comes out of a brainstorming session. Committees are neither adept at recognizing when there is nothing more to add nor when there are still things left to take away.

Sun's desperate pursuit to be the anti-Microsoft means they want everything to be a standard, and everything decided by committee. It also means they stubbornly refuse to make a profit off of their Java endeavors, one of the few things of worth to come out of the company. Instead, they leave that task to the very companies that are best positioned to snatch control of Java away from them. IBM stands as one of the most notable candidates.

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