Eclipse Moves Beyond J2EE; Eyes End-to-End "Plug-Ins"

Eclipse, an Open Source IDE backed by IBM and more than 25 other vendors, isn't just for J2EE developers anymore. Fueled by new IBM-contributed technologies for a plug-in, extensible framework and XML data exchange, Eclipse this month will take giant steps toward a broader, multi-platform, multi-language vision. IDN interviewed Eclipse manager Mark Erickson about the moves.

Tags: Eclipse, IBM, Open Source, Java, Erickson, IDE, Support,

Eclipse, an Open Source IDE backed by IBM and more than 25 other vendors, isn't just for J2EE developers anymore. The Eclipse group, thanks in large part to new technologies given over to Open Source by IBM, this month will take a giant step toward a broader vision to create a multi-platform, multi-language development environment.

More than simply a statement of direction, Eclipse is already make core code that will enable these features available for download. In just the last week, Eclipse launched two new sub-projects -- The Eclipse Modeling Framework and XSD InfoSet (XML Scheme Infoset Model) -- and released initial sample code for download from the Eclipse Group website.

The work for these sub-projects comes in the wake of IBM's decision in early September to hand over to Open Source their work on the core technology behind EMF and XML Infoset. The technologies also leverage traditional object-based modeling principals from the Object Management Group (OMG).

[The official Eclipse announcement of these developer technologies, along a rudimentary roadmap, will be made during the GartnerGroup Application Development event in Orlando, Fla.]

"The work on the EMF has been going on outside Eclipse for a fair amount of time," said Marc Erickson, an employee of IBM and a manager now assigned full-time to Eclipse The Eclipse Modeling Framework projects formed by members of Eclipse.

"The original work started within IBM as a next-generation development environment for commercial use," Erickson said. In fact, the EMF is based on work done by IBM for its VisualAge and VisualAge Micro Edition for Java.

"Some very experienced architects at IBM conceived of a universal tool platform, and while the technology was based on Java, it was envisioned to be completely agnostic and platform-independent," Erickson said. SO, even though Eclipse ships with a Java environment, Erickson hastens to adds that Java is simply a "design point," and adds that EMF is being designed to support a wide variety of languages. Third parties are already working on plug-ins for C/C++ and C#, he said.

EMF: Multi-Node Development Framework
The Eclipse Modeling Framework is a "plug-in framework" for a variety of language-specific support plug-ins, interfaces and the like. Under the EMF, these modular plug-ins would be packaged, installed and recognized by the rest of the Eclipse development environment automatically at start-up. As an example, IBM is using the Eclipse core framework to build an extended IDE for Webshere that would expand development beyond Java.

"We look at Eclipse as a core platform for a universal development tool platform," Erickson said. "We think of it as giving developers who need to work with multiple environments choice," he added.

Asked if Eclipse is taking on the same vision of a "framework" that Microsoft has embraced with the .NET Framework -- a binding end-to-end framework that accommodates multiple languages, Erickson said he sees some similarities between .NET's objectives and Eclipse, and went onto say, "We see the need to take IDEs away from the 'tower' concept of just working within one platform environment. Many applications need to talk to one another, and developers using web services are also looking for other open environments."

The Eclipse licensing terms are also being adjusted to encourage even more third-party plug-ins. "We are using licensing based on Open Software Foundation (OSF) principals because we want to level the playing field," Erickson said,. That means ISVs or independent developers can use Eclipse code distributions any way they want, and there is no obligation to donate anything back, he added. "But, if you want to contribute [Open Source} code, you will be getting attention and any commercial derivatives you can benefit from will be yours." As an example, IBM is using the Eclipse core framework to build an extended IDE for Websphere that would expand development beyond Java.

XML InfoSet
The XML InfoSet technology is designed to let Eclipse support data exchange and movement between software applications that use different data formats and XML schema. It also is designed to let plug-in language modules (starting with Java) to more easily share coding and instruction across dissimilar platforms.

"Imaging how many developer sites need to work with platforms of more than one type," Erickson said. "On that case, there are many different meta data types that need this type of generic support." Clearly Eclipse cannot replace all middleware, but will work to help dissimilar systems better work with existing legacy middleware, such as having Sybase support transactions across an IBM MQ Series message queue. "We're looking to give developers from dissimilar environments a common starting point for make it easier for each to share meta data across the enterprise."

Eclipse Version 2.0 Released
Not to be lost in the new wave of technologies, Eclipse is also releasing it's latest feature upgrade. Eclipse 2.0 now adds support for Solaris, HP-UX, AIX and QNX operating systems, to currently-supported Windows and Linux. The new version also supportsi nternationalization, with ability to support tools written in French, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Taiwanese.

More Eclipse Resources

  • The latest available Eclipse downloads can be obtained from this Eclipse website area, including the latest Eclipse release 2.0.1.

  • To see what other trade pubs are saying about the evolution of Eclipse, some "news and views" are available from's online scrapbook.

  • An interesting article this past summer from JavaWorld began to paint the picture of Eclipse's broadening shadow over the Java IDE sector. Read the June JavaWorld article here

  • An IBM whitepaper article from Mark Erickson, then deployed to IBM/Object Technology International appeared in Software and Development Tools magazine. The article entitled "Open IDE for Pervasive Development in the New Era of Computing," gives a glimpse into Eclipse's future as a multi-platform, open IDE.

  • Log-time Java vendor Sitraka adds JProbe 4.0 Eclipse support.

  • Open Source J2EE application server provider JBoss offers a few comments on Eclispe.