Branding, Eclipse and Open Source

Thanks to Darrin for the pointer to Steve Yegge’s excellent OSCON presentation on marketing and branding. A video recording of the presentation is online.

There are three points from Steve’s presentation that I think are important to consider:

1) Branding is important and software people need to think about it. I actually think Steve gives a really compelling presentation for anyone that doesn’t already agree with this statement.

2) Eclipse is an example of a good branding. According to Steve, IBM use to have VisualAge for Java which wasn’t doing very well and then they introduced Eclipse, which now dominates the Java IDE space. [As a side note, I don’t believe the only reason Eclipse did so well was the branding. The fact it was open source and technically very good helped a lot. I also don’t think VisualAge for Java was doing as bad as Steve mentions.]

However, the problem that Steve points out is the everyone thinks of Eclipse as a Java IDE not something more generic as described on our home page. Zach Urlocker has also picks up on this point. Redefining a brand is not a trivial task.

3) A big challenge of the open source community is that is has no brand. Something I completely agree with. According to Steve, GPL is the default open source license but there are companies that are abusing the open source term and diluting any brand equity.

For obvious reasons, the points about the Eclipse brand are the most interesting to me. IMHO, branding Eclipse to be a Java IDE is just not an option. In a perfect world, having a narrowly focused brand is always preferred but branding also has to reflect reality. The reality is that the Eclipse is much more than a Java IDE and has been for a number of years. Trying to maintain the brand Eclipse = Java IDE would probably offend a large part of the Eclipse community.

A potential solution is we create a new brand/name for the non-Java IDE stuff. In some ways we are doing this through the different project names; think Mylyn, EMF, BIRT, Equinox. If you mention EMF to someone in the modeling space, I believe most people know what it is and have an opinion; similarly Equinox in the OSGi community. That is a good sign of a brand awareness. Not all brands need to have mass appeal but good brands have recognition with their target constituents.

So where does that leave the Eclipse brand? I actually think the answer is related to the lack of a good open source brand. Over the next couple of years, my fearless prediction is that the term ‘open source’ will have less meaning as it continues to be overused and misused. Instead people will start associating with different open source communities, such as Apache, Eclipse, GNU/FSF, Mozilla, Spring, etc. Each community will have their unique qualities and characteristics and might be known by a leading project – Apache=web server, Mozilla=Firefox, Eclipse=Java IDE. People will associate more with these communities than they do with a generic ‘open source’ brand.

Therefore, I’d like to suggest that the Eclipse brand will become known as a place for organizations and individuals to build innovative commercial-quality software in a collaborative, open manner using an open source license.

For many, Eclipse will always be a Java IDE. However, over time just like Apple is know for ‘cool design’, I hope Eclipse will be known as a community for interesting open source development.

2 Responses to Branding, Eclipse and Open Source

  1. Doug Schaefer says:

    I think you’re bang on. In the CDT world, we consider Eclipse == Eclipse Platform. We rarely make the connection that Ecilpse == Java IDE. In fact I find more people who think Eclipse == Eclipse Foundation, and I think that’s a start at what I think Eclipse is. It’s the community of vendors participating in “co-opetition” to produce commercial quality open source software. It’s much less about technology that it is about the people involved. At least in our non-enterprise world.

  2. subbu says:

    I don’t agree that a particular open source community will be known for its single product,atleast in the development community.For eg:Apache has managed to make most of its products like Log4J, Struts ,etc., very famous by clearly creating a seperate branding for each of the product.

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