Eclipse conference turnout, developer interest strong

IBM Corp. officials said turnout for last week’s inaugural EclipseCon 2004 exceeded expectations by drawing 634 paid attendees from 226 companies and 23 countries. And while that may reflect a broadening interest and, in some cases, outright enthusiasm from developers for the open-source Eclipse platform, tools and plug-ins that IBM created, there was little doubt which company was leading the way.

IBM employees easily outnumbered attendees from other companies at EclipseCon. In fact, IBM’s 127 paid attendees represented 20 per cent of the total. And there may have been more IBM workers on hand, since the figures reflect only paid attendance, a spokesperson said.

“It just shows no matter what, especially in the beginning, that IBM is still going to be the primary driver of Eclipse as far as…what’s going to happen with it,” said Thomas Murphy, an analyst at Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group Inc.

Murphy said he will be interested to see how new board members influence the direction of Eclipse as its management organization transitions to an independent entity and how closely they will follow standards produced by the Java Community Process (JCP) created by Sun Microsystems Inc. to evolve Java technology.

Several of the 58 members of the newly independent Eclipse management organization said they were pleased to see IBM relinquish control, are convinced the company is committed to open development and expect to play an influential role in the new organization.

David Mercer, CEO of Scapa Technologies Ltd. in Edinburgh, said his 25-person company has expertise in test and performance tools and was welcomed by IBM and other larger vendors. “We’re setting up a test and performance infrastructure for Eclipse upon which test tools will be built,” he said. “We’re running this project, and we’re a small company. Quite clearly, IBM could just come in, but they haven’t done that.”

Dave Zygmont, president of Metanology Corp., a small company in Alpharetta, Ga., that makes sophisticated model-based development technology, predicted that Eclipse’s evolution to an independent entity — “with companies besides IBM having an opportunity to strongly influence the direction” — will drive adoption.

But IBM clearly will continue to be a major force. Lee Nackman, vice-president of desktop development tools and the chief technology officer in IBM’s Rational software division, said the company has no plans to cut back on its commitment now that more vendors will be sharing the management load.

“Eclipse is really important to IBM. I’m basing my whole tool product line on the Eclipse technology. This is not a game for us,” Nackman said.

Attendees showed keen interest in new features in the Eclipse 3.0 release due to be finalized in June.

One such feature was the work done to allow Swing components and Abstract Window Toolkit (AWT) widgets to be embedded in an interface built on Eclipse’s Standard Widget Toolkit (SWT). Swing and AWT, which are used to build graphical user interfaces, are endorsed by the JCP. But IBM broke ranks when it introduced its SWT widgets. IBM officials said Swing/AWT interoperability runs well now on Windows, but there’s more work to do on Linux.

Rich Main, director of Java development environments at SAS Institute Inc., said interoperability is important for his company, since it hopes to port its AppDev Studio tool to Eclipse. Main said SAS has developed a large set of Swing components and it would be too expensive to reimplement them on Eclipse’s SWT.

John Repko, a computer engineer at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, R.I., said he wants to make sure that commercially available Swing-based map applications will run in an Eclipse application. “Not having to write that ourselves is important,” he said.

Another new feature attracting developers’ interest was the Rich Client Platform (RCP), which will significantly reduce the amount of code needed to write graphical user interfaces. The Eclipse RCP effort is intended to enable developers to build a wide range of business applications — not just integrated development environments.

“Before, if you wanted to develop another application, you had to remove the Java tooling plug-in from Eclipse,” said Main. “You had to create a customized version of Eclipse in order to build a generic application on top of it.”

A developer for a defence contractor that does not use Eclipse said that the technology isn’t as mature as he had hoped in the area of security and that he has concerns about the learning curve needed to master it. But he said he expects to recommend Eclipse to his company “because any other way we’d go, we’ve have to start from scratch.”

Eclipse’s appeal is not limited to Java users, since it accommodates multiple languages. Jon Babich, a project architect at Fireman’s Fund Insurance Co. in Novato, Calif., said his company’s Java developers use WebSphere Studio Application Developer. But Eclipse might enable the company’s C++ developers to share some of the same tools and plug-ins.

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