REVIEW: Eclipse 3.5's Many New Features Work Together to Make Developers More Productive

eWEEK Labs finds Eclipse has greatly matured from its early, much slower days. Today, the application development platform can aptly be described as powerful and feature-rich.

The recent 3.5 release of Eclipse, code-named Galileo, brings loads of new features that will help developers become even more productive

In this review, I evaluate the new Eclipse IDE (integrated development environment), but there have been changes made to the entire Eclipse platform, as well.

During my tests of the IDE, I did not run into any problems. Eclipse has greatly matured from its early, much slower days. Today, "powerful" and "feature-rich" are apt descriptions of the platform.

Click here for a look at new features in Eclipse 3.5.

In fact, this release has more features than I could hope to include in any one review. Here, then, are the biggest:

  • Full support for both OS X Cocoa and Solaris x86. (And, believe it or not, support for the ancient IBM s390 mainframe-why, I don't know.)
  • Alternative button order. Yes, you read that right, and, yes, it really is important. Different operating systems order their OK and Cancel buttons differently, and it's significant that Eclipse allows you to configure your preference.
  • Enhancements to the way tool bars and menus can be customized, including the ability to show and hide individual menu and tool bar items.
  • Multiple instances of the Properties box. This is a good one, because you can open up more than one Properties boxes so you can simultaneously inspect and modify the properties of multiple objects. (I wonder if Microsoft is reading this.)
  • Great improvements to Project Explorer, including Go Into and Go To functionality. (The goal here is to get this explorer up to par with the Package Explorer.)
  • Improvements to the online help function, including a quick search that's limited within the selected book or topic.
  • Various smaller improvements in the IDE itself, such as a context menu that lets you choose how you want to open resources (for example, just as text or with the built-in editor), as well as a nice Workspace page in the Preferences dialog box that lets you specify how many work spaces to remember and whether to prompt for work space on start-up.
  • The inclusion of a handy "breadcrumb" feature for debugging.

Inside the code editor itself are some changes, too. One new feature allows you to select rectangular blocks of text. (That's one you might not appreciate until you try it, and then you wonder how you lived without it.) Another new feature lets you collapse folding regions by double-clicking the folding lines.

Many of the enhancements to the Java development tools show up in the code editor.

For example, the Open Implementation hyperlink is now available for "overridable" methods and lists all concrete implementations in the class hierarchy. In addition, the Java Compare Editor has new text-editing features, content assist, open Javadocs on hover (very cool), an interesting "quick outline" feature and live updates to the structure compare as you make changes.

Other interesting changes include the ability to select an entire comment, links in Javadoc headers, updates to the code formatter, and code generation improvements such as the ability to easily generate a basic toString function for your class.

The dialog boxes in the IDE now let developers sort working sets alphabetically and delete working sets from the package explorer, and one really sweet update allows patches to be pasted from Bugzilla. JUnit test results in the JUnit view can now be opened with just a double-click, and opening JARDesc files now launches the JAR Export Wizard.

So far, this is looking really cool. Even more so if you're a plug-in developer-Eclipse's plug-in system is one of the finest around, and Version 3.5 makes it better.

New features and enhancements include a new declarative services editor, a new NL fragment generation wizard (for dealing with internationalization), DS tooling enhancements, enhanced versioning options to allow version-constraining checks on packages, a properties editor for .options files, greatly enhanced export features and much more.

Jeff Cogswell can be reached at [email protected]