EclipseCon reflects IDE’s rise as plug-in platform of choice

But no one said it would be easy: Transitioning can bring undesirable complexities

EclipseCon kicks off this week in Santa Clara, Calif., marking the second annual convocation of Eclipse partners and vendors, who will gather to learn about and celebrate alliances, new products, and new directions.

Indeed, there’s much to celebrate. The Eclipse juggernaut has continued its seemingly inexorable march through the Java IDEs and is now moving into other languages, such as C/C++ and Cobol. Other languages are high on the agenda, as Eclipse seeks to enhance its growing position as the de-facto non-Microsoft IDE.

Beyond IDEs, Eclipse is using its RCP (Rich Client Platform) project to position itself as an integration platform with extensive pre-built functionality into which ISVs plug in their own modules. The idea is that those ISVs can focus on their value-added features and delegate a substantial portion of the client interface to Eclipse. Several vendors have already embraced this proposition and made their products available either primarily or exclusively as Eclipse plug-ins. These include Agitar’s Agitator, Fortify Software’s Source Code Analysis Suite, and ILOG JRules -- all products recently reviewed in these pages. Effectively, Eclipse has succeeded in positioning itself as the plug-in platform of choice.

However, transitioning to this Eclipse model is not always easy. A case in point is Borland’s Java development environment, JBuilder. At the inaugural EclipseCon conference in February 2005, the company announced it would retool JBuilder into an Eclipse plug-in with code available later that year. However, according to a Borland official, the project turned out to be more complicated than expected, and the transition never got off the ground. Earlier this year, the company announced it will be selling off JBuilder and its other development IDEs. The future of any Eclipse-based version remains unknown. Curiously, despite Eclipse’s success, JBuilder is the only major Java IDE to fold its cards: Sun NetBeans and Oracle JDeveloper have both been released in new versions, and Sun in particular has announced aggressive product plans. NetBeans has also been winning converts to its platform strategy, which has an important distinguishing benefit. As opposed to Eclipse, NetBeans uses Java’s native Swing graphical interface, so client-facing applications do not need to be rewritten -- as they must be if they are ported to Eclipse, which uses its own interface library.

Some Eclipse users complain that the platform enjoys only one release per year, generally just before the JavaOne show in May. New features were scarce in last year’s release, a gap that enabled NetBeans and JDeveloper to add many IDE functions currently missing in Eclipse.

However, Eclipse’s market share and vendor-neutrality -- it was spun off from IBM in 2004 -- continue to drive its growth. This success will become even more apparent later this year, with the release of Eclipse Review, a new magazine for the platform and a developer/user tradeshow, Eclipse World, which is scheduled for Sept. 6-8 in Boston.

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