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Mike Milinkovich Explains Eclipse Foundation's Move To Belgium

The Eclipse Foundation is moving its headquarters to Belgium, the organization has just revealed. One of the world's leading open-source software foundations, steward of the Eclipse IDE, enterprise Java, and the Eclipse MicroProfile, and the heart of a global ecosystem of developers, companies, and public sector entities, is pulling up stakes and heading for Brussels.

Well, figuratively speaking.

This "move" is more about establishing an official identity in a region poised to embrace open source in a big way than physically relocating. The Foundation offices in Ottawa, Canada, will still be there when the new legal entity in Europe is established later this summer; it should be finalized by July 2020. The Foundation will then be legally "domiciled" in Belgium as an AISBL (Association internationale sans but lucratif), which is the international version of the country's two forms of non-profits. 

I asked the Foundation's executive director, Mike Milinkovich, who has led the organization since its founding just over 16 years ago (mostly from those offices in Canada) why the EF is doing this.

"From one perspective, we're just doubling down on the status quo," he told me. "Two-thirds of our committers are based in European countries, and we're already the largest open-source organization in Europe. But from another perspective, we're getting ahead of a kind of awakening in Europe about the true value of open source. Last year, we started to see the light bulb going off in the form of more and more publications and various governmental and industry organizations emerging with a focus on open source. Open source has gone from something that was tactical or perhaps interesting to something that's strategic and central to their thinking. It was pretty clear that if we didn't do this, someone else would."

"Don't get me wrong," he added. "There are open-source organizations in Europe, but they largely stick to single projects—the Open Document Foundation, for example. And none of them have the scope of the Eclipse Foundation, which hosts hundreds of projects."

The Eclipse Foundation is already the largest open-source organization in Europe, with nearly 1,000 committers and a staff of about 10 mostly development staff spit between France and Germany. This move builds on that large international membership base and will almost certainly accelerate its growth. As the Foundation put it in a press release, "The Eclipse Foundation's new home will enhance all its global members' abilities to participate in European projects via open technologies. This will provide new opportunities for all, in a competitive global level playing field, to bring new solutions to the global market."

"This is a move motivated by a business opportunity, an opening to establish a truly global institution for open source," Milinkovich said.

When all this virtual rearranging is completed, the Eclipse Foundation will have headquarters in Belgium, Canada, and the US, though its official home will be in Europe. Consider that trifurcation in the context of the Foundation's mission to prove to the enterprise that the world of open-source solutions can be trusted and relied on—a mission that spawned the annual simultaneous release of multiple Eclipse Foundation projects known as the Release Train—and the move makes even more sense. The industries that use the solutions developed and maintained by Eclipse committers (and those the Foundation wants to use them) are governed by the local laws. Europe-based companies are often more comfortable with Belgian law, Milinkovich pointed out.

"We're essentially creating a home that's more appealing to European industry," he said. "The number one reason we ended up in Belgium is that the country's legal structure is absolutely fit to purpose for an international organization like ours. But also, it's considered sort of the neutral country within Europe."

Not all of this ephemeral shuffling is going to be virtual. The Foundation is establishing a new GitLab-based forge hosted on servers in Europe. Currently, the Foundation offers projects a choice between its own original forge, which is based on Git, Bugzilla, and Garrett, and GitHub.

A team at IBM developed the original Eclipse Java-based IDE in the late 1990s. That IDE was the EF's first killer app. "The Eclipse Foundation is vital to millions of developers worldwide, as are Eclipse projects to companies in many industries," said Todd Moore, vice president of Open Technology and Advocacy at IBM, in a statement. "The Eclipse Foundation is taking steps to expand its global presence and reach. IBM welcomes the initiative and is providing support."

More information on the Foundation's plans and how interested parties can get involved can be found on the Eclipse Foundation website.

Posted by John K. Waters on May 13, 2020