Later today, the Eclipse Foundation -- the organization responsible for the oversight of the Eclipse integrated development environment (an IDE for deploying Java applications) is expected to make a series of announcements according to the organization's vice president of marketing Ian Skerrett. The audio version of the interview is available as an MP3 that can be downloaded or, if you’re already subscribed to ZDNet’s IT Matters series of audio podcasts, it will show up on your system or MP3 player automatically. See ZDNet’s podcasts: How to tune in.
Although the opening act for Eclipse at JavaOne will be the launch of version 3.1 of the Eclipse IDE, the news that everyone will probably be talking about is Eclipse's Rich Client Platform (RCP). In the interview Skerrett described the RCP like this:
We're moving beyond just development tools in developing a platform for end user applications. Let me give you and example. When I subscribe to different blogs with RSS feeds, I have an RSS newsreader that is actually built on top of Eclipse in Eclipse RCP. I'm not using it through a browser. I'm using it through a Windows application, a Windows application that gives me the look and feel that I want and it has nothing to do with the development tools. The announcement we're making this week is really the momentum we've seen around the Eclipse RCP and the new features and functionality that we brought into RCP. The key that we've been working on for RCP is two main focuses. One, to improve the tooling for creating rich client applications. So we've done a lot of work on the packaging and the branding which are very important if you're a company like SAS whose end user BI and analytic applications -- they want it to look a SAS application. So we've done a lot of work on the packaging and branding around Eclipse RCP and also around performance. We've done a lot of work on performance to make sure that the startup time and the memory requirements for RCP applications are as minimal as possible and as fast a possible.
The alternative to a SAS application looking like a SAS application is a SAS application looking like other Java applications. In other words, now that the RCP is out, Eclipse is closer to delivering not only on one of its long term promises, but it's also digging itself deeper under the fingernails and Sun and the IDE it favors -- NetBeans. The promise of Java has always been the idea of write once, run anywhere (WORA). After developers crunch their Java applications into a series of bytecodes, those applications should run identically on any computer that has a Java Virtual Machine (the JVM) regardless of the underlying platform.
According to Sun's point of view, the WORA promise is so important that anything that interferes with it should be considered Java sacrilege. Enter Eclipse. Although the Eclipse faithful are on board with writing applications once and being able to run them anywhere, many of them are OK with an interim step, once the WORA code is finished, that seasons those applications to fit more tightly into the target environment (for example Windows, Mac, Linux, etc.). So, instead of a JVM-based application looking like a JVM-based application with the JVM's standard GUI elements, a technology like RCP can help dress the WORA application to look more like a Windows application, or, with the flip of a switch, more like a GNOME or KDE application. Or, going back to Skerrett's example, to make a SAS application look more like the way the folks at SAS want it to look when it's running on Windows. Such applications may even know some of the intracacies of the underlying platform. For example, how to string together a file path for Windows versus Linux or Mac.
But once the code is injected with any platform-specific awareness, it is no longer WORA. Not that developers can't go back to the original code in Eclipse and throw whatever switch they need to throw to make the code aware of a different target environment. It's just that Java purists (in other words Sun) have long objected to the way Eclipse can put the finishing touches on a WORA application in such a way that the absolute final product isn't truly WORA. One of RCP's core enablers and the technology that rattles Sun's nerves is called SWT. Much to chagrin of Sun (which prefers that Java developers use something called SWING instead of SWT), SWT has long been a part of Eclipse. But, now, the technology is more complete than it ever was and to the same extent that RCP is Eclipse's realization of long-term plan, it is also the realization of a nightmare for Sun which would rather not give developers more reasons to build SWT into their applications. Meanwhile Skerrett minced no words when putting NetBeans in its place:
Netbeans just doesn't compare. They don't have the commercial support. They don't have the 100-plus companies building commercial products, they don' t have the 800-plus third-party plug-ins available that people can pick from and choose from. So, in my mind there's just no competition there.
Skerrett elaborated further on NetBeans vs. Eclipse as well as the JavaOne announcements. Download the audio to your MP3 player to hear what else he had to say.