So far this summer there's been an eclipse for every audience: a big-screen edition for fans of teen horror movies, a total eclipse for Easter Island-based sky watchers and, for those of us with our attention trained on the application development world, a major new platform release from the Eclipse Foundation.
Eclipse 3.6, which arrived on the Internet on June 23 sporting the code name Helios, comprises 39 different Eclipse projects, collectively called a release train. While all of the projects are based on the open source, Java-based Eclipse IDE (integrated development environment), the train covers so much ground that it can be difficult to digest all of its enhancements and additions.
While many of the changes to individual projects in the release train were minor, the enhancements are impressive when considered as whole, and go a long way toward sustaining the momentum that the Eclipse project has built up in the application development space.
Eclipse 3.6 is available for free download in versions that support Linux, Windows and Mac OS X. The development tool is available in about a dozen prepackaged editions that contain a set of plug-ins and configurations for a particular development area. There's an edition for Java EE developers, one for PHP developers, one for C/C++ developers and so on. Fortunately, if you want to compare, Eclipse.org has a page showing what comes with each version.
In the past two years, the software development world has seemed to go crazy over app stores, and every significant platform either has one in place or one on the way. The Eclipse project brought its own Eclipse Marketplace online in December 2009, and already has over 1,000 plug-ins available. New in Eclipse 3.6 is client access to Eclipse Marketplace right from within the IDE.
The app store is a particularly apt addition to Eclipse because of the way Eclipse is put together: The projects that make up the platform are typically plug-ins that may or may not make their way into the official Eclipse release as they grow in popularity. Users can download and install the projects separately, essentially building their own customized versions of Eclipse. The addition of an app store in the Eclipse client helps to smooth out what can be a confusing process.
When I started up the Eclipse Marketplace client in Eclipse, I was half expecting to see a new document open showing the Eclipse Marketplace main Web page, but I was pleased to find the marketplace exposed in the form of a proper Eclipse plug-in, complete with a dialog box with tabs for Search, Recent, Popular and Installed applications. As I interacted with the dialog box, the client connected to the marketplace and updated itself in real time. As I made my way through the available apps, I got a list of the plug-ins matching my search criteria, along with a little company icon, a description and, best of all, an Install button. This is much easier than the older approach of typing in a URL to add a plug-in. (But the old method is still present, as certainly not all plug-ins out there are in the Eclipse Marketplace.)