It seems that the same people are commiserating the tragedy of the commons at Eclipse, at regular intervals, over and over again. Complaining is not a very good way to get what you want - I know one thing or the other about this as a father of three ;-). Complaining may work once or twice, but if you keep repeating the behaviour, people will stop listening to you.
Normally, I would just sit these things out but this time I feel compelled to add some oil to the fire:
- Diversity on e4: It is very easy to become a committer on e4 - that's one of the purposes of an incubator. Basically, all it takes is a believable email to firstname.lastname@example.org that you would like to work on something in the context of e4, and you will be nominated as a committer. Still, IBM has most of the commits in the e4 project. Who do you think is to blame for that? IBM? Because it is investing in a project whose goal it is to bring innovation back into the Eclipse Platform?
- Diversity on the Eclipse Platform: The last example I know of where people or companies wanted to contribute to the Platform but were not received with open arms is from about two years ago, when developers from WindRiver complained that their contributions did not make it into the Debug and Resources components. Where are we today? Both these components have committers from WindRiver, and Martin Oberhuber, a WindRiver employee, is a member of the Eclipse PMC. By the way, are those new committers contributing to those Eclipse Platform components full-time? No. (Just to be clear - I don't want to pick on WindRiver at all: I think it's great that they are in fact investing in the Eclipse Platform, even if it's just a little, when many other companies that benefit from the Platform don't invest anything at all.)
So, if you'd like to contribute to the Eclipse Platform on an ongoing basis, and feel that you are not "let in", please speak up so that we can fix the problem. I am pretty sure that this problem doesn't exist, and that instead the problem is more on the side of those who decide not to contribute, than it is on the side of the existing committers.
- Forking: As of lately, this is easier than ever. Eclipse projects are now mirrored as Git repositories, starting with those that are using CVS for the main development. Knock yourself out, and don't forget to make the source available if you are creating derivative works. However, I don't think this is going to be a solution to the "tragedy of the commons" problem. I do hope this will make it easier to create private branches when your development timeline does not align with the one at eclipse.org, and you need to just fix something now. I also hope it will make it easier for contributors in general to provide patches that don't go stale.
By the way, the mirroring as Git repositories happened thanks to Denis and the webmasters at Eclipse, thanks to Shawn Pearce and the EGit and JGit team, and to a small amount thanks to Mike Milinkovich, the Eclipse Board of Directors, and your committer representatives on the board. If you are interested in details, see the bug Chris Aniszczyk opened on June 17th just after Doug Gaff and I were able to convince Mike Milinkovich and the Board (minutes) that it was important to make this happen.
- The Foundation is doing concrete work to help: Mike has mentioned some of the things that are planned for 2010 on his blog: "a branded Eclipse forge hosted elsewhere (e.g. IP Policy free), Git support for the whole community and major improvements in hosted build and test at eclipse.org." I believe that the Eclipse Foundation staff, and Mike Milinkovich as the executive director, are doing a pretty good job, and they are also actively trying to get more involvement by other companies and individuals for core projects at Eclipse. The board of directors even made this a strategic goal for the Eclipse Foundation this past June1.
Now for the definition of "help", I would recommend that you focus on a narrow enough subpart so that you can follow along for the next little while (like, for example, a year). Spend some time on the newsgroup/forum, read and understand the code, watch incoming bugs, find out who is the current maintainer, contact them and let them know you are interested in helping, and so on. This does not have to take a lot of time, but there is probably a lower limit of perhaps one or two hours per week. Convince your manager that doing this is important for the company, since they have software products that rely on the component or feature in question. You can also argue that investing a little time will help improve your skills. In fact, the latter point is a motivation that works even if you don't have an employer, if for example you are a student, or self-employed, or just not employed at the moment.
What's in it for you? Potentially fame, when your name starts appearing in Eclipse source file headers, or in IP logs (which by the way are another good way to measure project diversity). You'll learn about "the eclipse way", the development process that allows us to ship on time and with quality, every year, for the last nine years. Finally, you'll have the warm fuzzy feeling that comes with ensuring the future of a core piece of technology that is being used by millions of users. Of course, you could help an Apache project, or Linux, or Mozilla, or on SourceForge or GitHub, but chances are (if you are reading this on Planet Eclipse) that your job indirectly depends on the future of Eclipse - not Apache, Linux, or Mozilla.
(Image © Zen Sutherland, http://www.flickr.com/photos/zen/241745451/sizes/o/, licensed under Creative Commons by-nc-sa 2.0)
1 You have to read between the lines for this, not sure if newer board minutes have more detail. The June board minutes state: "In discussing the strategic goals of the Eclipse Foundation, the Board indicated that diversity on e4 was of strategic importance to the Eclipse Foundation. In addition, it was important to continue to grow a diversified revenue model. As a result of the discussion, these two concepts were introduced into the Strategic Goals of the Foundation." Since a strategic goal that focuses solely on e4 seems a little odd, this has been generalized to apply not only to e4 but to other platform-y projects at Eclipse, I believe the wording is "Ensure adequate resources are invested in the core technology platform".