IBM set to 'Eclipse' the IT world with new development tool

As part of a revamp of its software development tools, IBM is pinning its hopes on an open source tool, the Eclipse Project, to tie it all together. This tool will provide a framework for other tools and for the construction of various software products.

IBM is currently rewriting its PC-based development tools so that they will share a common code base. These changes will allow an iSeries developer to launch a WebSphere Studio project from the same development tool that she uses to launch a WebFacing, VisualAge for Java (VAJ), or even a VisualAge for RPG project. In other words, a single development environment framework will provide the functionality to launch any development tool available in the programmer’s arsenal—a concept that has been part of IBM’s statement of direction since the spring of 2000. To accomplish this seemingly impossible task, IBM is turning to the open source community, and specifically, to the open source tool known as the Eclipse Project. This overview of IBM’s new venture explains how Eclipse fits into the company’s larger revamp of several development tools.

One tool fits all
The Eclipse Project is an open source IDE that provides a basic framework around which software tool providers can build a uniform development platform for all of their products.

For example, a developer may have one tool that a user accesses to build, say, landscaping projects and another tool that lets a user balance a checkbook. Both of these tools, running as plug-ins in the Eclipse framework, will look and feel exactly the same to the user despite the fact that functionally, and conceptually, the tools are quite different.

The Eclipse IDE is touted as a tool that does everything and nothing at all. In fact, its strength lies in its ability to learn about other tools that are interfaced with it and then present those tools to the user via a standard framework. The Eclipse IDE is a Java-based environment into which software developers can add their own plug-ins that interface with the Eclipse IDE. This ability to add custom plug-ins, which know how to work with the Eclipse framework, are what give Eclipse its tremendous functionality and versatility.

Any product that interfaces with the Eclipse IDE will have the following basic components:
  • Navigator View, which appears very much like the Windows Navigator tool
  • Text Editor View, which can be customized to provide access to the text editor(s) of choice
  • Task View, which presents the user with a list of to do’s for a given project
  • Outline View, which presents an outline of the file being edited in the Text Editor View
  • Project View, which presents the user with a Windows Navigator-like view of all the components in a given project

Core technology for revamp of other tools
IBM is using the Eclipse Project as the basic framework for rewriting all of their development tools, including VAJ and WebSphere Studio. In fact, the WebSphere Studio product will soon be split into two new products: WebSphere Studio Site Developer (WSSD) and WebSphere Studio Application Developer (WSAD).

WSSD is designed to provide new tools for non-Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) Web sites, Web services, XML, and databases. WSAD adds support for EJB and advanced runtime trace tooling. Which tool you use will depend on your current needs.

The VAJ product is being rewritten because it’s now at the end of its life. While it will tolerate WebSphere Application Server (WAS) 4.0, it does so only grudgingly. Those developers who attempt to use it with WAS 4.0 may find that it’s more trouble than it’s worth and will likely opt to wait for the next release, due out in beta sometime in Q4 2001 and as a generally available product sometime in early 2002. The new version of VAJ, which is based on the Eclipse Project technology, will be designed to work very well with WAS 4.0, as well as future releases of WAS.

For many years, IBM was perceived as a curmudgeon when it came to keeping up with all the advanced technologies and new developments taking place in the wider IT community. Today, however, IBM is leading the pack with its new development tools and is busily rolling out new products that take advantage of all the latest in technology. The Eclipse Project is just one example of the many new technologies that IBM and its iSeries plan to take advantage of in the coming years.

What do you think of IBM’s latest strategy?
Will this ambitious plan to rewrite development tools work? Do you think your developers will go along with another change in IBM’s software development tools? Send us your opinion of IBM’s latest plan.


Editor's Picks