Eclipse Updates Open-Source Tools Platform - InformationWeek

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Eclipse Updates Open-Source Tools Platform

Eclipse 3.0, slated for release next week, will include improvements for building Java desktop applications and a host of developer usability enhancements.

The Eclipse Foundation next Monday plans to make available the latest version of the Eclipse open-source tools platform, a release developers said makes the platform viable as a foundation not only for development tools but also for new applications.

The new release, Eclipse 3.0, includes significant improvements for building Java desktop applications and a host of developer usability enhancements, developers on the project said Tuesday.

Eclipse 3.0 will be available for free download Monday from www.eclipse.org and several other sites accessible through www.eclipse.org/downloads/index.php.

IBM developed Eclipse in November 2001 as a way to unify myriad development tools within one integrated development environment (IDE). However, developers said Eclipse 3.0 marks the first time the platform is mature enough to be embedded as an application framework, not used by developers simply as an overall tools environment.

A key update in the new release for an application framework is the Rich Client Platform, a scaled-down version of Eclipse GUI development functionality that allows developers to build business applications more easily, as well as embed Eclipse in those applications, said John Wiegand, Eclipse Platform lead, IBM.

"Before they used Eclipse and didn't take the byte and make it a part of their code," Wiegand said. "Now Eclipse is something they can ship as part of their application."

The Rich Client Platform also makes it possible for developers build better client-side Java applications, said Mike Taylor, president and CEO of Portland, Ore.-based Instantations, a Java tools shop and contributor to Eclipse 3.0.

Client-side Java has never taken off the way server-side Java has, mostly because of performance issues on the desktop and also because it was too hard for developers building lightweight desktop apps to use, Taylor said. Eclipse 3.0's Rich Client Platform changes all of that, however.

"The Rich Client Platform brings Java meaningfully back to the desktop," Taylor said. "This release of Eclipse certainly addresses the performance issues [of Java on the desktop], but also makes it easier to develop those applications so you don't have to be a rocket scientist anymore. This is a big step forward for Eclipse."

Another key feature of Eclipse 3.0 is support for Swing, a standard for building Java-based GUIs. Lack of native support for Swing has been a point of contention for Java developers ever since IBM introduced Eclipse, which natively supports a technology IBM created called simple widget toolkit (SWT). SWT allows developers leverage native components of an operating system to build GUIs for applications so, for example, a GUI built on a system running Windows will look exactly like a native Windows application. Swing, however, emulates native OS components so GUIs built using Swing will have the same look and feel across clients running multiple operating systems.

"In software there has always been a religious battle between native widgets and emulated widgets," said Instantations' Taylor. The support for Swing in Eclipse 3.0 should quiet critics who accused IBM when Eclipse was released of trying to leapfrog existing Java standards for GUI development by inventing SWT instead of using Swing as the default in the Eclipse platform.

Developers working on the new version of Eclipse also included a host of enhancements to make the user experience more intuitive, Wiegand said. One new feature in Eclipse 3.0 to improve developer productivity and usability is the notion of capabilities, which allows developers to define which capabilities they need on a project. This way when a developer begins a project only the capabilities he or she needs will be exposed to them in the platform.

"For instance, you would say [to Eclipse] you would like to create a Java project," Wiegand said. "When you do that that would enable the Java capabilities. Now the operations that make sense to you would be available so you weren't thinking about turning capabilities on one by one."

Eclipse project developers also have included new series of wizards, or cheat sheets, to simplify workflows, as well as made improvements to the Java code editor to enhance developer productivity. Eclipse 3.0 also is easier to install, includes an overall better "welcome experience" when developers fire up the software, and offers developers improved customization of menus and toolbars, Wiegand said.

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