Eclipse Aims for Smaller, Faster, Simpler

Panelists debate whether a code overhaul is needed for an Eclipse 4.0.

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RESTON, Va.—A major overhaul of the Eclipse code base may be a long time off, but it's on the minds of some of the leaders of the open-source tools platform.

During a panel discussion at the EclipseWorld 2007 conference here Nov. 6, some of those leaders—including Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation—spoke hypothetically of an Eclipse 4.0 that would be a significant improvement over the current platform.

"If we do an Eclipse 4.0, it has to be smaller, faster, simpler" than the Eclipse platform of today, and would have to be "even more maniacally focused on being a platform," Milinkovich said.

A new code base was one of several issues addressed by the panel, which also touched upon the current competition in the tools space and Google's new Android mobile platform.


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Robert Martin, founder and CEO of Object Mentor, said getting a smaller and simpler Eclipse platform needn't require a new or clean code base.

"Improving the code base doesn't mean that you have to throw out the existing code base and start over," Martin said. "You want to keep it clean all the time."

Milinkovich agreed, saying Eclipse can get to a smaller and faster platform "without starting from scratch." But serious talk of an Eclipse 4.0 is likely some time off. The last simultaneous release train of 21 Eclipse projects, known as the Europa release, was based on Eclipse 3.3. The next such release train, due at the end of June 2008 and named Ganymede, will not include a major overhaul of the platform, he said. He also invited developers to help the foundation prepare for Ganymede.


"Eclipse is an open-source community and is only as good as the contributions we get from the community," Milinkovich said.

Yet during the panel discussion, he said that a major Eclipse code base overhaul would take "somebody at IBM to say 'though shalt'" because IBM still contributes the bulk of resources to the code base.

The panelists also talked about the competitive landscape for IDEs (integrated development environments).

Asked by the panel's moderator about other IDE platforms such as Microsoft's Visual Studio and Sun Microsystems' NetBeans, Milinkovich said he admires Microsoft's "singularity of vision." However, he said Microsoft is in a situation where "they're sitting on a 10-year-old code base, and there's such a thing that code can have a 'best before' date." Milinkovich said he could see Microsoft creating a new development platform with a plug-in architecture more akin to Eclipse.

Martin said that "Microsoft, with Visual Studio, has done a tremendous job of ignoring what developers want … to the extent that IntelliJ [from JetBrains] has been able to carve out a nice market doing tools to make Visual Studio usable."

Regarding NetBeans, Milinkovich said Sun does a good job of marketing the things NetBeans does better than Eclipse, such as Java profiling and GUI building with the Matisse technology.

"I think the thing they oversell themselves on is the platform; Eclipse is clearly superior," Milinkovich said. That said, "It's not Eclipse versus NetBeans. That's an apples and oranges comparison because NetBeans is a Sun product, not an open community. It is a Sun product that they sell support for."

David Intersimone, developer evangelist at CodeGear, said his company JBuilder 2007 on Eclipse and the company—then Borland—made the decision to go with Eclipse over NetBeans two years ago.

"It was Eclipse 3.0 with the plug-in architecture that really cemented it," he said. "NetBeans just doesn't add the depth and breadth in terms of frameworks, infrastructure and customer caring."

Regarding the Web as a platform, Milinkovich said that while companies like Google are all about the Web and Microsoft is focusing on software plus services, "I think there will be a real convergence in the middle, a blending. And it will become hard to tell when you're connected or not connected in the browser or outside the browser."

On Google's open-source mobile phone platform and Open Handset Alliance, Milinkovich said that "imitation is the highest form of flattery," in that the alliance seems to be following an Eclipse-like strategy.

"We're big fans of open systems with open operating systems and tools and SDKs [software development kits]," Intersimone said. "I signed up to be notified when the SDK arrives."


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