What is it?
Eclipse is an open source Java-based platform for integrating software tools for application development. Its originator, IBM, has described it as the company's "next-generation tools integration platform".
Previously concentrating on enterprise application development, with projects such as the J2EE-focused Web Tools Development Platform, this year the Eclipse Foundation is widening its scope to include embedded systems and Web 2.0 development.
Eclipse is a set of open source community projects, but the board of the Eclipse Foundation includes representatives of IBM, Oracle, BEA, SAP, Borland, HP, Nokia, and Motorola, among others.
Although conceived as an open standards-based set of frameworks and tools for building, deploying, and managing Java software, Eclipse can also be used as an environment for languages such as C++ and Cobol. Support for other languages will be added this coming summer. The object is to give developers freedom of choice in a multi-language, multi-platform, multi-supplier environment.
Where did it originate?
Eclipse was first seen as a replacement for IBM's Visual Age for Java. "We envisioned the customer's complete development environment to be composed of a heterogeneous combination of tools from IBM, the customer's custom toolbox, and third-party tools," said IBM.
After creating a new Java integrated development environment (IDE) with resources from its Object Technology International labs, IBM attempted to develop it as an open source community project. However, the fact that it was "owned" by IBM confused potential users and put off partners and contributors. To guarantee independence from IBM and other suppliers, the Eclipse Foundation was set up in 2004 as a not-for-profit organisation with its own professional staff, supported by dues from member companies.
What's it for?
There are several different "platforms" within Eclipse.
The Test and Performance Tools Platform enables developers to build tools such as debuggers, profilers and benchmarking applications.
There is also a Visual Editor project for creating GUI builders, and a Modelling Framework and code generation facility for building tools and other applications.
What makes it special?
Sometimes described as an IDE, Eclipse actually provides the functionality from which IDEs can be built. The architecture, based on component plug-ins, makes it simple to integrate new languages and tools.
How difficult is it to master?
Eclipse builds on existing language and tool skills.
Where is it used?
It is used in most Java IDEs, except those based on the Sun-backed Netbeans.
What systems does it run on?
Linux, HP-UX, AIX, Solaris, QNX, Mac OS X, and Windows.
What's coming up?
Following the successful Callisto simultaneous release of 10 major Eclipse projects last June, Eclipse is planning the Europa release for this June. Some of the technology is already available, including versions of the Eclipse Ajax Toolkit Framework and the Rich Ajax Platform.
The Dynamic Languages Toolkit extends the use of Eclipse tools and components to Ruby, Python, Tcl and others. Support for scripting will be added with Europa. The Eclipse Foundation has also demonstrated its Standard Widget Toolkit running on Windows Vista, which is part of a drive to win over Windows developers.
Links to a range of training resources can be found on the Eclipse website.
Rates of pay
Salaries for Eclipse developers start at £30,000, though user organisations include many investment banks, which will offer much more.
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