Eclipse started out as proprietary technology, led by IBM’s subsidiary, Object Technology International (OTI). IBM wanted to reduce the large number of incompatible development environments being offered to its customers and to increase the reuse of the common components in those environments. By using the same common framework, development teams could leverage one another’s components, integrate to a high degree, and allow developers to roam among projects.
Eclipse did not emerge from thin air but evolved from a long product line of development environments, of which the earlier ones are IBM VisualAge for Smalltalk™ and IBM VisualAge for Java™. Both of these products were written in Smalltalk. The IBM VisualAge Micro Edition™ product was the first serious—and actually quite successful—experiment with writing the entire IDE in Java. Many concepts found in Eclipse have been tried out in that product already. However, for third parties, it proved difficult to extend the product with new components, mainly for two reasons: (1) it was not designed with a component model in mind, and (2) it essentially was a monolithic, closed-source product.
A small team of experts set out to take the experiences of the previous years of designing and implementing development environments. The result was Eclipse, a platform designed from the ground up as an integration platform for development tools. It enabled partners to easily extend products built on it, using the plug-in mechanisms provided by the platform. The subsequent path to open source and enabling of a much wider audience and ecosystem was a natural progression.
The Eclipse open source project was announced in November 2001 by a group of companies that formed the initial Eclipse Consortium. From there, the small initial project burgeoned into a collection of related projects that formed the basis of dozens of commercial applications.