Part of the dilemma with the global software community today is that there are so so many open source repositories and projects. I guess amongst the best known community owned initiatives are Apache, eclipse and SourceForge. But there are very many others, as a quick Google will reveal: for example HotScripts, NetLib, RubyForge, and CodeHaus. Most of course are primarily specific to a particular technology but, nevertheless, large scale projects frequently span several technologies.
How can you easily and quickly put together your own project which relies on software components from several different source code repositories ? If your project works out to be cool, how can you easily and quickly share it with other people who may be interested in it ? Now, Linux distribution vendors such as redhat and ubuntu do a great job packaging together a large set of Linux based components – in ubuntu’s case, over 16,000 according to their web site. Great. But what if I myself want to package together some components which I found useful, in a configuration which those Linux distro-vendors don’t currently offer ?
The problem is generally exacerbated if the components which you want to select come from different repositories and projects, having different repository and dependency technologies – CVS, Maven, Subversion, Ant&Ivy, whatever. The problem is also made more difficult because of version dependencies on your installation environment and other components.
In an earlier blog entry, I wrote how assembling software today is reminiscent of childhood experiences with toy building kits, such as Lego. However, there is some danger that in assembling software components from different sources, you end up with a large pile of individual Lego bricks on the floor! There should be a better way of defining and tracking component assemblies across technologies and repositories.
I was excited to see that last week at eclipsecon, AOL’s Lucas McGregor announced the Eclipse Spaces technology project. I guess the essential concept is simple: just in the same way that MySpace provides online storage for friends to share videos and photos and news and events, there is now an opportunity for developers to informally and easily share online interesting component assemblies with one another. The eclipse project process of course offers a formal, process driven approach to collaboratively developing new software between companies, and I guess Apache has something similarly formal between individuals. But Eclipse Spaces suggests something less rigid, in which components which do not necessarily conform to the precise terms of the eclipse.org license, can be informally assembled as personal and individual projects, especially if they come from other repositories outside of eclipse. And since Xdrive is free, this would be a wonderful added service for AOL to provide to the global software community.
I was also delighted to see that Eclipse Spaces is one application of Buckminister’s publishing and materialisation technology for software component assemblies. Henrik Lindberg, Thomas Hallgren and Filip Hrbek are included as the initial set of committers to Eclipse Spaces, all three from Cloudsmith. I’m also delighted to see Malcolm Sparks on the list too, an old IONAian who joined IONA when Ejbhome was acquired in 1999. And Bjorn Freeman-Benson and Ward Cunningham, both from the eclipse foundation. And finally Dennis O’Flynn, the eclipse Corona project lead from Compuware. Looks like a very solid team.
As a global community, we need a far simpler and more elegant way to quickly build, publish, maintain, acquire, materialise and track interesting aggregations of software components, even if they are cross technology. I’ll watch Eclipse Spaces with interest