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Eclipse Shines a Light on the IDE's Future

The open source Eclipse Foundation has its eye on making its integrated development environment (IDE) ready for the future, with new projects designed to better adapt to cloud-based architectures and to stake a claim in runtime frameworks.

The projects, set to be unveiled during the foundation's annual EclipseCon developer conference this week, include the debut of the Swordfish Enterprise Service Bus, or ESB , which is intended to enable more modular service-oriented architecture deployment.

While Eclipse is well known for its developer tools like its namesake Eclipse IDE, Swordfish signals that it's aiming to make a name for itself in runtime frameworks as well.

Eclipse this week also outlined how it's looking to the future of development itself with the Eclipse 4.0 (E4) platform, which will incorporate a host of changes designed to free the IDE from the desktop.

Both come as applications of all sizes continue to migrate to the Web, to cloud-based delivery platforms and service-oriented enterprise architectures. As a result, developers and their tools are evolving to meet the modern reality.

That's especially critical for the powers behind the Eclipse framework, which has emerged as an important infrastructure element for modern application development and the basis for tools from IBM, Oracle, SAP, Red Hat and others. Since its inception, however, the core Eclipse IDE has been a desktop application -- a fact that's now poised to change.

Swordfish, for instance, is taking Eclipse in a new direction.

"It's part of a broader trend within Eclipse, which is the move into the runtime area in general," Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation, told InternetNews.com. "It's an entre into seeing Eclipse as a collection of runtime frameworks as well as its traditional strength in the tools space."

The SOA runtime is ESB based on OSGi, the plug-in architecture used for everything at Eclipse. Its key features include a dynamic services registry, so services can be more loosely coupled and deployed. Scalability is also key theme, with support for distributed ESB. Milinkovich also said Swordfish includes remote configuration agents and an extensible monitoring framework to monitor events and allow for detailed tracking.

Taking it to the Web: Eclipse 4.0

Likewise, Eclipse 4.0 (E4) has similarly radical implications for Eclipse, Milinkovich said.

"E4 is a technology incubator for both technology ideas and community that we want to see evolve the Eclipse platform," he said. "E4 is focused on a number of main areas, the first is bringing Eclipse to the Web."

The move online will take some time, Milinkovich expects the first E4 beta to ship this summer with a final release not targeted until 2010.

Milinkovich explained that E4 is designed to enable deployment on Ajax, Adobe Flex and Microsoft Silverlight platforms, building on the existing Eclipse SWT (standard widget toolkit) and Eclipse RAP (Rich Ajax Platform).

In bringing the Eclipse user interface to the Web, Eclipse will also change the way it relates to plug-ins. According to Milinkovich, one of the key goals of the E4 platform is to make Eclipse a platform of services. With E4, the idea is to be able to program to E4 with a Web Services API, which can simplify using Eclipse to build platforms.

"If the UI will run in a browser, that implies the app will be running on the server side and the interaction between the user interface and the underlying app is going to require some kind of service-orientated communication," Milinkovich said.

Eclipse may also be collaborating with the Mozilla Foundation for its online IDE efforts. Earlier this year, Mozilla launched its Bespin online editor IDE effort as a way to bring Web development online.

Milinkovich noted that Eclipse has already had the Mozilla Bespin team up to the Eclipse Foundation's headquarters in Ottawa, Canada, to talk about what kind of collaboration Eclipse and Mozilla could do.

The Eclipse 3.0 platform first debuted in 2004 and is currently at its 3.4 release with a 3.5 release coming later this year. Milinkovich noted that the existence of E4 does not imply that Eclipse is stepping away from supporting 3.x platform. In fact, he claimed that Eclipse will continue to support Eclipse 3.x at least 5 more years.