Over the last few years Eclipse has experienced more than significant growth and has expanded well beyond its, what seems now to be modest, Java IDE roots. Eclipse now hosts 10 top level projects that contain 90 (if I counted correctly) combined subprojects with 11 project proposals currently sitting in the pipeline. The addition of each new project has broadened Eclipse’s scope taking Eclipse in a new direction. The Eclipse community is thriving. Many great projects are being produced. But has the Eclipse brand, that is the name “Eclipse” and what it represents, grown along with Eclipse itself?
Take a moment now to answer this question yourself. Sit back, relax, and think about Eclipse. What’s was your first thought? Was it Eclipse the Java IDE (aka JDT), SWT, or RCP? How about eRCP or DSDP? WTP, DTP, EMF/Modeling? Perhaps BIRT, SOA, or the ever popular Mylar? Or did you think of the Eclipse foundation?
My answer to this question continues to be Java IDE, SWT and RCP. This despite the fact that I’m a WTP committer and previously worked on the now graduated WSVT project. Comments such as this one (by mmm, try to ignore the negative aspect of the comment) show that I’m not the only one with this Eclipse brand baked into my head.
This type of brand problem isn’t a new one and isn’t one that’s going to end with Eclipse. Let’s take a look at two other projects, one that has already experienced this problem and one that looks poised to experience it as it begins to grow.
Apache started as the Apache HTTP server and I’m convinced that many people outside of the Apache community still think HTTP server when you say Apache. Of course today Apache is one of the largest open source projects in the world with numerous influential and ubiquitous projects such as Ant, Maven, Struts, Tomcat and Xerces. (I’d say that Woden, the Apache project I work on, has not been adopted quite universally yet.) And let’s not forget Harmony, the Apache implementation of Java, which although not complete has already garnered much attention. Apache has experienced the same brand problem as Eclipse and it looks to me like this project has (perhaps unofficially) adopted a wait it out strategy assuming that one day people will get that Apache is more than the HTTP server. At present I think that the Apache brand has made some progress but it’s difficult for me to gauge how much progress being part of the community.
Dojo is a fairly new project that started out, like Apache and Eclipse, with one key project: The Dojo Ajax Toolkit. Many people have heard of Dojo but I think most don’t know that Dojo is also a foundation (like Apache and Eclipse) and Dojo currently hosts two subprojects: OpenRecord and Cometd. Dojo hasn’t yet hit that critical point when rapid project growth begins but I think they’re positioned well in the Ajax space, have the backing to survive the Ajax toolkit wars (I just don’t see how two years from now we’ll still have 100+ Ajax toolkits available), and therefore have the potential to grow their project base and scope. I don’t think the Dojo Foundation has given much thought to the topic of the Dojo brand at this point but it will be interesting to watch and see how it tackles this in the future.
Looking at these two examples I don’t think we, as the Eclipse community, have much strategy we can borrow. I think there is a lesson for new open source projects and that is building the brand of your open source organization on the name of its marquee project has shown that it can lead to confusion with respect to the other projects your organization hosts. I don’t see a good solution for this as when forming an organization you want to cache in on the name recognition already in place. This lesson, however, seems to me like something that can be filed under good to know when forming an open source organization.
So what can we, the Eclipse community do to grow the Eclipse brand? I think we need to increase cooperation among the various Eclipse projects to create value add of using multiple projects together – something I don’t think we’re doing a very good job of today. In this way, when people think of Eclipse they won’t just think of one project because they won’t use just one project. They’ll buy into the benefits of using WTP, DTP, ATF, Dali, and TPTP together. They’ll explore the update site to discover other projects that will enhance their current tools. And once they see all of the projects as a single Eclipse offering they’ll get Eclipse and the brand will grow.