IBM recently made available one of the better Integrated Development
Environments (IDEs), especially for Java development. Eclipse is an
open-source IDE written mostly in Java that, in terms of the user
interface's responsiveness and utility, is hard not to like.
The parts of Eclipse not written in Java are a special, graphical widget
set called SWT. SWT replaces AWT and Swing's role in mainstream Java
applications. SWT's main benefits are its speed and appearance, which is
much better than most Swing applications. Being non-standard though, SWT
is only supported on a few platforms. This becomes a serious drawback
when compared to the strong platform support Swing enjoys.
Where you stand on the SWT debate (a heated debate at that) aside,
Eclipse works well as an IDE. I don't like a few of its quirks,
particularly when setting up projects, but I've found that I have
trouble getting most IDEs to do exactly what I want.
Being open-source, Eclipse is freely available at
http://www.eclipse.org. You can download a variety of Intel-based Linux
packages, as well as Windows, Solaris, AIX, and QNX versions. A MacOS X
version is also in development. Since I last wrote about Eclipse
(http://www.itworld.com/nl/lnx_desktop/02142002), the IDE has come very
near its 2.0 release. However, look for the latest build that has passed
a number of tests on the download page. As Eclipse nears the 2.0
release, the latest builds have not been passing the tests.
Right now, Eclipse is primarily for Java developers, although C/C++
modules are in the works. Like other IDEs, Eclipse is really a core
application, called the "workbench", and a set of add-on modules. Java
development support comes as a set of modules, so you can conceivably
add support for other programming languages. A number of plug-ins, many
free, can be found to add features like interfacing to the Perforce
Eclipse is the open-source low-end IBM Java IDE. On the commercial
front, IBM sells WebSphere Studio
(http://www.ibm.com/websphere/studiofamily). Rational produces another
commercial version of Eclipse called Rational XDE
(http://www.rational.com/products/xde). Rational built their IDE on top
of the Eclipse base, adding in features such as UML design tools.
Eclipse isn't the only game in town for Linux IDEs though. Both
NetBeans/Forte and JBuilder serve the needs of many developers. Like
Eclipse, NetBeans (http://www.netbeans.org) is an open-source IDE that
supports add-on modules. NetBeans offers more J2EE features than the
basic Eclipse at the cost of a standard (and somewhat ugly) Swing user
interface. Sun sells the commercial version of NetBeans, called Forte
for Java (http://wwws.sun.com/ffj).
The other main Linux IDE for Java is Borland's JBuilder
(http://www.borland.com/jbuilder), which is available as a free Personal
Edition. You cannot use software developed with the Personal Edition for
any kind of commercial projects though.
If you are working on Java software development, Eclipse is worth a try.
Compared to JBuilder or NetBeans/Forte, Eclipse lacks many J2EE-specific
features but you can get similar features IBM's commercial versions of
WebSphere Studio. Since I cannot end a column on Java development tools
without mentioning some Java editors that sport many IDE-like features,
I'll close with a quick list: