Last November, however, IBM announced a technology whose code name is truly fitting: Eclipse. In the spirit of its code name, Eclipse and the products that vendors are building on it promise to replace many of the development tools you're using today.
What Is Eclipse?
To understand Eclipse, you have to realize that it is really two things. First, it is a Java-based integrated development environment (IDE) like VisualAge for Java, but this is one that both vendors and customers can extend with their own plug-in components. This extensibility is possible because Eclipse is fully open source; indeed, you can download it from the Eclipse Web site. Second, Eclipse is a consortium of development tool vendors who are creating a single, consistent workbench for developing Web-capable business logic and are building that workbench on the Eclipse code base. At this moment, almost 25 vendors have pledged to deliver new or existing tools on Eclipse by the middle of this year, including IBM, Rational, Borland, Merant, MKS, WebGain, Red Hat, and SuSE.
There are good reasons for these vendors to plug their tools into the Eclipse IDE framework. Despite their advantages, object-oriented languages and Web-capable development tools have not caught on with many programmers because of their complexity. This complexity largely arises from the fact that there isn't a single consistent development interface for all the OO and Web-capable tools needed to complete a project. To develop a Java application that lets you analyze and update inventory information via the Web, for instance, you may need one tool for high-level design, another for coding the business logic, another to develop the browser interface, and others for editing, debugging, and version control. These tools often come from different vendors, use different interfaces, and don't easily import or export the work you've done on other tools.
That's where Eclipse comes in. As an open-source IDE that any development tool can plug into, Eclipse provides a framework that performs much the same function as PDM does for RPG programmers. Eclipse includes a "file and folder" system and workflow engine that allows development teams using different tools to share their work with each other in a consistent manner. As a result, everyone from business analysts to programmers to Web designers can complete projects faster and at a lower cost. As for the tools vendors, they can bring their products to market more quickly because Eclipse provides many of the facilities they formerly had to develop themselves.
Because of these benefits, IBM has committed to building future releases of nearly all its development tools on the Eclipse IDE. This includes not only the VisualAge and WebSphere Studio tool families, but also the iSeries-specific tools that currently run on Windows clients. As such, you can expect that over time, the functions contained in CODE/400 and VisualAge RPG will appear as Eclipse plug-ins. Once this happens, working with systems that include RPG and other languages will become far easier. For instance, as you are assembling a Java application that calls an ILE RPG module, you could click on the module name and launch an Eclipse plug-in with CODE/400 capabilities to edit the module.
You may not realize it, but you may already be using Eclipse at your site. That's because the iSeries WebFacing Tool, which converts 5250 applications to Java Server Pages and data beans, runs on Eclipse. Later this year, you can expect that other products within the WebSphere Development Tools for iSeries suite will also become Eclipse-based. As this occurs, the names and functions of the tools within the suite could also change. For instance, it is likely that WebSphere Studio Site Developer, an Eclipse-based product that IBM has been marketing for several months, will replace both VisualAge for Java and WebSphere Studio within the iSeries tool suite. This convergence of products onto Eclipse will allow all the tools in the iSeries suite to work together in a more seamless and intuitive manner.
Of course, there will be some devils in the details of this migration to Eclipse, and we won't know about many of them until after IBM announces the new products. You can also bet that Eclipse will run into stiff competition from other vendors that are building their own workbench platforms for the next generation of development tools. I'll have more to say about both of these topics when I revisit the Eclipse project in next week's issue.