Guest View: Eclipse as a Test of Darwin's Theory
By Franco Gasperoni
April 15, 2008 —
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What is the major factor in software evolution: short-term survival of the fittest or long-term strategic cooperation? For a hint, look at Eclipse, an open, extensible development platform built on a mechanism for creating, integrating, and running modules called plug-ins. Put another way, Eclipse provides a common infrastructure for tool providers to plug in their tools.
The Eclipse project is run by the Eclipse Foundation, and most of the people behind Eclipse’s plumbing are on the payroll of companies that have a vested interest in Eclipse. Eclipse, and the Eclipse Foundation, is an example of a software cooperative. Its business purpose lies more in cost reduction than in revenue generation.
At the root of software co-ops, such as Eclipse, is the idea of pooling R&D resources to work on and share a common technology base, which is then tailored and adapted by each member of the co-op to its needs and those of its customers.
And where does Darwin fit in all this? In 1902, Peter Kropotkin wrote a book, “Mutual Aid: A Factor of Evolution,” in which he described how in animals in Siberia must work together to stay alive, as opposed to competing for resources. Throughout his book, Kropotkin stresses that cooperation is the main factor in evolution, rather than the competing forces as described by Darwin and his supporters.
It is precisely this drive for cooperation to solve a mutual problem, too hard or too costly to solve alone, that is the business case for the Eclipse co-op.
You have heard of ecology and economics. Have you ever wondered about the meaning of “eco”? In ancient Greek, “oikos” means house. In Latin, oikos evolved into “oeco,” which means household. Thus, at the root of an ecosystem, such as the one for Eclipse, you find a household with its internal exchanges, connections and inter-plays. This household is the co-op.
The notion of industrial cooperation is not new. The creation of the Airbus consortium in the 1960s exemplified a cooperative effort across aerospace companies and nations. What is interesting, and what the Free Software and Open Source movements have shown in the last decade, is that the idea of cooperation can be applied to the development and evolution of software.