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Eclipse Says Release 3.0 is a Star

Determined to provide unprecedented ease of use, the Eclipse Foundation has unveiled the third version of the popular Java development tools environment, which now includes a rich client platform.

The first full upgrade in nearly two years, the Eclipse Platform Release 3.0 boasts across-the-board improvements, many centered around usability. Improving usability of the open source platform is crucial because the mass of software in it comes from developers who use disparate methods, according to Eclipse Foundation Executive Director Mike Milinkovich.

Milinkovich, recently hired from Oracle to help shape the group's vision to provide the best, open source Java development environment possible, discussed several new features with internetnews.com.

The director said foundation members improved the ability to tailor menus and toolbars, and created a new method for managing workbench features to make Eclipse user interfaces react faster. This is essentially in an environment where users post hundreds of plug-ins and other functions, which can impede workflow.

For example, tasks in previous Eclipse versions would run in the foreground, blocking the user from the interface, which meant they had to stop working until the job was processed. Code refactoring in 3.0 has made it multithreaded, meaning it can run tasks for a long-running job in the background to free the UI so a developer can keep working.

"From a developer tools perspective there is a ton of new functionality in 3.0 that strengthen the platform: Eclipse Modeling Framework, the UML framework, etc," said Meta Group analyst Thomas Murphy. "This will create a lot of new potential for open source add-ins and better coordination across the life-cycle."

Eclipse has also been optimized as a rich client platform, Milinkovich said. Eclipse members have refactored object-oriented development tools for application construction and integration, including the workspace GUI, the functional extension plug-in, help subsystem and update manager.

Over the last couple of years, Milinkovich said people have come to Eclipse and said, "If I hack the following things I can actually use this as framework to build and deploy my applications." Milinkovich noted that Lotus "stole a bit of Eclipse's thunder" when it announced that its WorkPlace Client would be based on the revised platform.

In another key development, Eclipse has also made it possible for programmers to embed SWING widgets, Java components from Sun Microsystems that enable the creation of graphical user interfaces (GUI), in interfaces based on SWT, the software component from Eclipse that delivers native widget functionality for the platform.

SWING works differently from SWT because it doesn't use the native widget set on each platform, emulating operating systems instead. With SWT, Eclipse brings up the real user interface on that platform, natively. Both SWING and SWT are portable and by letting programmers integrate SWING tools, Eclipse is making it easier for them to tap into 3.0 for Windows and Linux.

"We're trying to attract more people who have built tools in Java to our IDE platform by lowering the barrier to entry. They don't have to reimplement their user interface to use Eclipse now," Milinkovich said.

"Support for Swing is especially important for tools authors that are building plug-ins but would like to keep things as similar as possible across a variety of Java environments: Eclipse, JBuilder, Java Studio, WebLogic Workshop," Murphy told internetnews.com. "It also helps close some of the issue around SWT being a proprietary system deviating from the Java standard for UIs, which is Swing."

Royalty-free distribution of the Eclipse 3.0 is available June 28 via download from Eclipse.

Meanwhile, Milinkovich said he will be meeting with members of Sun Microsystems at JavaOne but that there are no current plans to build a bridge between Eclipse and the NetBeans IDE from Sun.

Talks centered around getting Sun to join Eclipse or having Eclipse join NetBeans have waxed and waned to no avail, as rival development camps deadlocked on bureaucratic issues.