Microsoft has lost one of its high-profile hires to an open-source consortium.

Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation (search), announced on Monday that Ward Cunningham (search) is leaving Microsoft to join the staff of the open-source tool consortium. Cunningham's new title is Director of Committer Community Development.

Cunningham, the father of the Wiki concept (search), joined Microsoft about two years ago. At Microsoft, he was not involved directly in social-networking-software development. Instead, Cunningham worked as an architect with the company's Patterns & Practices Team.

Before joining Microsoft, Cunningham already had dabbled in all kinds of programming, including object-oriented-, extreme- and agile-programming ventures.

According to his profile on Wikipedia, "Cunningham is also well known for his contributions to the developing practice of object-oriented programming: in particular, the use of pattern languages, and CRC cards."

The Eclipse Foundation is the group charged with promoting Eclipse, an open-source platform for tool integration built by a community of tool providers. Members of the foundation include BEA, Borland, IBM, Intel, Red Hat, SAP and SuSE, among others.

The Eclipse platform competes head-to-head with Microsoft's Visual Studio tool suite.

"If we execute, we will, excuse the pun, Eclipse the Microsoft environment," Mike Milinkovich, executive director of Eclipse said in a recent interview with eWEEK. "Microsoft is worried about the passion of what open-source software."

Some Microsoft bloggers noted that Cunningham was leaving the company but failed to mention where he was going.

"I'm sad to say Ward Cunningham is leaving patterns & practices and Microsoft. Ward was an incredible mentor and friend during his stay here," posted Microsoft blogger "EdJez."

Microsoft officials did not respond to a request for more details on Cunningham's departure.

Milinkovich noted that: "Ward's track record of invention in areas such as wikis, patterns and agile development are known worldwide. His current interests in open source and developing communities of developers are a perfect match for the work we need to do at Eclipse. Ward will lead the effort to create a more cohesive Eclipse committer community by working with developers in order to enhance Eclipse as 'the place to be.'"

The Eclipse Foundation has been experiencing dramatic growth, with a number of open source companies joining the fray, including JBoss, and others such as SpikeSource and Mergere indicating plans to join.

Meanwhile, this week, Zend Technologies, the PHP language supporting company, plans to announce that it is becoming a strategic developer member of Eclipse. As a strategic developer, Zend must lead a top-level Eclipse project, and company officials said Zend will lead a project to enhance support for dynamic and scripting languages on the Eclipse platform. Zend is expected to make the announcement at its first annual PHP conference and expo this week in Burlingame, Calif.

IBM founded Eclipse in 2001 and spun Eclipse out as an independent organization early last year. For Java developers, Eclipse has become something of a checklist item for employers and bids for new business. Almost all the major development organizations and independent software vendors support Eclipse, except for holdouts Sun Microsystems and Microsoft.

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