The deadline for the biggest ever synchronised release of open software is looming. On 29 June, the long-awaited Europarelease from the Eclipse Foundation will see updates in 20 categories of Eclipse open software.
The unprecedented release covers around 30 separate components - with several making their public début.
At the centre of the Europa release is version 3.3 of Eclipse. Backwards compatible with version 3.2, it includes the Eclipse platform, Java Development Tools (JDT), the Plug-in Development Environment (PDE), and the Eclipse Equinox framework for accessing what used to be called the Open Services Gateway initiative (now OSGi) version 4.1 services.
Release 3.3 is a significant step forward for Eclipse and should overcome many of the criticisms which have been thrown at it. The overall aim is to increase Eclipse's appeal and "make it easier for users to get Eclipse, install it on their systems, and configure it for their use".
Improved error handling and reporting should make Eclipse easier to service and better scalability and performance should help it attract a larger slice of the enterprise development community. Along with improvements in "help" content handling and upgrades to the application programming interface (API), Eclipse 3.3 includes better Java support (Java SE 6) and introduces support for Mozilla and Microsoft Vista.
The other components in the Europa release provide a variety of tools to build on top of the Eclipse platform. They fall into four broad categories - administration, modelling, development, and specific application aids.
Under the administration heading the first release of Eclipse Communications Framework (ECF) provides a support platform for the development of distributed Eclipse-based tools and applications. ECF 1.0 provides mechanisms for asynchronous point-to-point and publish-and-subscribe messaging. Also under the administration heading, Eclipse Monkey version 1.0 provides a dynamic scripting tool for automating routine programming tasks and a "dashboard" feature to monitor Eclipse-based developments.
Another début product under this heading is the Buckminster framework package for automating build/assemble/deploy (BA&D) activities in complex or distributed component development. Release 1.0 of Buckminster enables projects to define "fine-grained production lines" for staged software development covering unit test, integration test, field deployment and staged migration.
The Aspect J Development Tools (AJDT) platform version 1.5 upgrades Eclipse's support for the emerging area of PARC originated Aspect Oriented Software Development (AOSD) project.
The Eclipse user interface – Mylar - is to change its name to Mylyn and version 2.0 has been upgraded to include hyperlinking and better error detection.
In the modelling area, the Europa release sees new versions of the Eclipse Modelling Framework (EMF), the Graphical Editing Framework (GEF), and the Graphical Modelling Framework (GMF). EMF version 2.3 includes Java 5 support while the upgrades to GEF (version 3.3) and GMF (2.0) aim to improve usability and performance.
Europa also includes two new modelling components. Model to Text (M2T) version 1.0 provides a tool to convert models to text descriptions and Model Development Tools (MDT) version 1.0 introduces a platform and an API for building new modelling tools based on the Ontology Development Metamodel.
As might be expected, the largest single category of new software falls under the software tools heading. While this is generally the most mature area of Eclipse development, there are also début components here too. The first version of the Dynamic Languages Tool Kit (DLTK), for example, provides a set of extensible frameworks to help cut the complexity of building development environments for dynamic languages such as PHP, Perl, Ruby, and Python.
Another début comes in the form of release 0.9 of a Device Debugging (DD) tool under the Device Software Development Platform (DSDP). There is also a new version (2.0) of the Target Management (TM) tool under DSDP.
The first release of the Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) Tools Platform (STP) is likely to attract a lot attention because of current interest in the subject. The tool includes support for BPEL editors and service creation tools such as JAXWS. The second release of the Web Tools Platform (WTP) also enhances Eclipse's "service" profile with improvements in quality and extensibility.
Among the more mature tools, version 4.0 of the C/C++ Development Tooling (CDT) includes several detailed upgrades to the editor and debugger while version 4.4 of the Test Performance Tools Platform (TPTP) provides a general upgrade and bug fix.
Finally, the Europa release includes upgrades to a couple of application specific tools. Business Intelligence Reporting Tools (BIRT) version 2.2 aligns with Eclipse 3.3 and is claimed to be easier to use. Data Tools Platform (DTP) version 1.5 similarly provides Eclipse 3.3 compatibility and a "quality" upgrade.
The Europa release is an important step for Eclipse and looks set to secure its position as a mainstream development environment. Assuming it has overcome the problems of usability and scalability for which it has been criticised in the past, 29 June could well go down as an historic date in the continued evolution of software development practice. ®