What is it?
Eclipse is a platform for building integrated development environments (IDEs) for Java and C++ programming, websites and other applications. An open source project begun by IBM, Eclipse is now supported by a wide range of suppliers and organisations, including Borland, Oracle, Computer Associates, Hewlett-Packard and the Object Management Group. In particular, the project wants to involve tool builders to provide plug-in tools for Eclipse IDEs.
The idea of Eclipse is to provide an IDE that can constantly evolve and adapt, instead of being junked with each change in the focus of software development, forcing user organisations to retool, and developers to learn again from scratch. Outside the English-speaking developer community, Eclipse has been enthusiastically adopted in Germany and Japan.
Developers who use Eclipse-based tools have a choice of languages, platforms and suppliers. Eclipse IDEs are used on Linux, HP-UX, IBM AIX, Sun Solaris, Mac OS X and Windows-based systems.
Where did it originate?
The Eclipse Foundation was formed in 2001 by Borland, IBM, Merant, Rational, Red Hat, SuSE and others. It has since been joined by suppliers including Fujitsu, Hitachi, Sybase, SAP, Ericsson, Intel, Micro Focus and JBoss.
In 2004, the foundation was reorganised as a not-for-profit corporation to ensure that the technology and source code would remain openly available and royalty-free.
What is it for?
The Eclipse platform is Java-based, but not restricted to Java. C/C++ and Cobol IDEs are being developed. Eclipse has some built-in technology, but relies on plug-in tools from software suppliers to address different tasks.
When the platform is launched, the user is presented with an IDE composed of the set of available plug-ins, which are able to manipulate content types such as HTML, Java, C, JSP, EJB and XML. Eclipse supports both GUI-based and non-GUI-based application development environments.
A sub-project, Business Intelligence and Report Tools aims to address the reporting needs of a typical application, so that developers do not have to build their own or try to make existing ones fit.
What makes it special?
Eclipse is continually being enhanced by a growing community of tool suppliers and users. It supports repository-based team development, and makes use of open, widely accepted technologies such as Unified Modelling Language, Apache Ant, the GTK toolkit for GUIs, Tomcat and Open Motif for Linux.
How difficult is it to master?
Eclipse adopts the look and feel of the target platform, making use of the native application programming interfaces that developers are familiar with. Several tool suppliers, notably IBM, offer four-day courses on developing Eclipse plug-ins.
Where is it used?
Development environments based on Eclipse include IBM Websphere Studio, Intel C++ Compiler for Linux, Novell/SuSE SDK, PalmOS Dev Suite, Red Hat Developer Suite and SAP Netweaver Studio.
What systems does it run on?
Windows XP, 2000, 98 and ME, and versions of Linux and Unix such as Red Hat, SuSE and Solaris.
What is coming up?
The Eclipse Web Tools Platform for web services development is due in July.
A range of courses, online tutorials, books and other materials is available to those wanting to learn Eclipse. Suppliers involved with Eclipse offer how-to guides. IBM's Developerworks site is a good source. It is also worth looking at Borland, Hewlett-Packard, and O'Reilly's OnJava site.