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31 July 2009, 14:23

A first look at Eclipse 4

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As is already indicated by version 0.9, which has just been released, Eclipse 4 will incorporate several familiar web technologies and put them to new uses.

The Eclipse development environment has become a very popular open source project. A flexible software tool kit, Eclipse can integrate the products of several vendors as plug-ins, for example for modelling, development and software tests; for some time now, Eclipse hasn't just been about Java. The Eclipse Foundation behind the development environment has grown into an influential consortium: in November 2001, IBM introduced the source code of a development environment into the newly established open source community. IBM then dominated the scene for a long time, until the foundation was established as an independent and non-profit organisation for the development of the Eclipse platform in 2004.

At the end of June, the Eclipse developers released Eclipse 3.5, a new, coordinated Eclipse package. The current collection, called Galileo, includes more than 33 Eclipse projects with over 24 million lines of code, which makes it the largest preconfigured package the Eclipse community has ever put together: more than 380 committers from 44 organisations have contributed to the new version.

The plan for the forthcoming Eclipse 4 is to offer features like Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) for designing SWT widgets whose appearance can be directly manipulated using a CSS editor. Widget layout, however, will probably continue to be handled by SWT layout managers. According to the Eclipse programmers, the CSS engine can also be used for "styling" other objects because it is "headless".

In future, developers will be able to create Eclipse components in JavaScript. For this purpose, the development environment will be given not only a JavaScript engine, but also a "modularity framework". Schematic illustration of the JavaScript framework in Eclipse 4
Zoom The new JavaScript framework in Eclipse 4 uses the OSGi infrastructure and allows the creation of modular applications.
It is based on the OSGi infrastructure and designed to add namespaces to the script language, a feature which has so far been unavailable. The Eclipse programmers hope that this will allow large applications to be written in JavaScript.

"Bundles" are to provide assistance. They use the JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) for describing the metadata, for example, of the script file and the required module. A wiki page explains the concept in detail.

Other changes also affect the architecture of Eclipse. For instance, components like views and editors no longer need to extend framework classes or implement interfaces. According to the developers, this allows them to be re-used independently of the environment – and gives developers the option of writing them in JavaScript or other languages.

A white paper discusses the changes in detail. Special versions of Eclipse 4 for Windows, Linux and Mac OS X, as well as a platform-independent version, are available online.

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