Open Source IDE Overshadows Commercial Competitors

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

source-control system.

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:

jEdit

http://www.jedit.org

Jext

http://www.jext.org

J

http://armedbear.org/.

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