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Eclipse: A Solid Desktop, Rich-Client, or Embedded Application Framework
Eclipse forever changes the way developers think about writing Java applications
By: Todd Williams
Aug. 11, 2006 02:00 PM
By now, you've probably heard about Eclipse as "the Open Source Java IDE" (www.eclipse.org). Today, several companies have looked past the Java IDE plug-ins provided as part of Eclipse, and are creating products that use Eclipse as a tool integration platform, both inside and outside of the Java arena. But what about using royalty-free, Open Source Eclipse technology as a general-purpose application framework for your next desktop, fat client, or embedded application? With the support provided by the Eclipse Rich Client Platform (RCP) and the embedded version of the same (eRCP) the idea is certainly not as strange as it first sounds. So we'll explains why Eclipse is a solid desktop, rich-client, or embedded application framework with the potential to greatly simplify and accelerate development as well as forever change the way developers think about writing Java applications.
In today's computing environments it's important to deliver user interfaces that can run on a wide variety of platforms. The range is broad - including small handheld devices as well as server consoles. When users interact with applications in the window management environments they're most familiar with, using the application must feel natural and predictable.
Building a productivity application means starting with a good design and a supportive architecture. Since there's no universally accepted application framework, most developers design their own architecture and then build it into a framework. However, the cost of this approach is considerable expense, time, debugging, support, and aggravation expended on solving a problem that's peripheral to building the functionality of the intended application.
A much better approach than "rolling your own" application framework would be to find one that could fulfill the design requirements while simplifying and accelerating project development. A "wish list" for such a framework would likely contain the following:
Can Eclipse Be Used as an Application Framework?
Eclipse provides the framework for combining disparate tools into a single integrated application with a seamless user interface. New tools are integrated into the Eclipse Platform and its user interface through plug-ins that extend Eclipse's facilities and provide new functionality. Eclipse plug-ins can also extend other plug-ins. When an Eclipse-based application initializes, it discovers and activates all of the plug-ins that have been configured for the environment. An Eclipse application is quite literally the sum of its parts since it's capable of performing any function that has been added to it by the plug-ins it currently contains.
Since being able to write and test such plug-ins is essential to the success of Eclipse, the Eclipse Platform is bundled with a plug-in development environment (PDE) and a set of Java development tools (JDT) to support it. Eclipse's developers clearly trusted the power of the frameworks they created. The entire development environment is just another set of tools integrated into the platform using the standard plug-in techniques. The Eclipse Platform itself was itself created by developers using the Eclipse-based Java IDE (initially in beta form). And, since it's Open Source, anyone can inspect the code and understand in great detail exactly how the frameworks are supposed to be used.
It's this practice of packaging the development tools with the platform that causes some people to be confused about the nature of Eclipse. The JDT components are so effective that they're attractive to all Java developers, not just those writing plug-ins. On the surface, Eclipse appears to be just an excellent Java IDE. But instead of thinking about Eclipse simply as a Java IDE, try to think about it as a productivity application that happens to include a Java IDE built using the underlying Eclipse Platform as an application framework.
Eclipse Framework Features
The following sections describe the primary Eclipse features that make it attractive as a general application framework.
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