Eclipse Futures on Tap at Annual Conference

The future of the Eclipse platform will take center stage this week as open source and Java developers gather for the sixth annual EclipseCon 2009 conference in Santa Clara, Calif. where organizers will reveal the progress of Eclipse 4.0 and the Jetty Project.

Proposed as an Eclipse project under the Eclipse Runtime (RT), the Jetty Project is a popular, open source, Java-based Web server and implementation of the Servlet Specification. The Eclipse Foundation has confirmed it will announce that Jetty Project will become part of the Eclipse community. The latest version, Jetty 7 is still under construction and is scheduled to be released in June with the Eclipse Foundation's annual simultaneous product release (this year's Eclipse "release train" is code-named "Galileo"). Jetty is available under the Apache 2.0 license, so it can be used commercially.

The Jetty Project is regarded as one of the premier implementations of the Servlet standard. Jetty has been around since 1995 and has gone through six major releases. There's currently an Eclipse plug-in called the JettyLauncher, which allows for the launch of Web applications in the Eclipse framework. Jetty has also been used to serve the help system in the Eclipse IDE since the 3.3 release.

The Eclipse Foundation also plans to provide an update on the progress of Eclipse 4.0, also known as "e4," the community effort for building the next generation of the Eclipse platform. Currently, e4 is focused broadly on making Eclipse more suited to services, re-architecting the process of developing Eclipse UIs by adopting a modeling framework approach, and bringing Eclipse to the Web.

"Today Eclipse uses its plug-in architecture and that will continue in e4, but we would like to make it simpler to build both applications and products on top of Eclipse," said Mike Milinkovich, the Eclipse Foundation's executive director. "Clearly, the world is going more service-oriented, so providing Eclipse as a platform of services is a key architectural goal for e4."

E4 will adopt a modeling framework approach for UI development that relies on the Eclipse Modeling Framework (EMF), according to Milinkovich. "Adopting a modeling framework approach means that all of the graphical elements developers see in the screen are rendered from a model that contains the description of each element. This is really important for making the Rich Client Platform (RCP) more relevant in more domains.

Changes in the model are immediately reflected on running applications, Milinkovich added, which enhances a developer's ability to implement UI managing strategies.

The Eclipse Foundation will also announce that the Swordfish SOA runtime framework, created by Sopera, has officially become part of the Eclipse platform. Swordfish is designed to provide an extensible framework that allows application developers using Eclipse to build service-oriented business applications.

Modeling Momentum
EclipseCon organizers plan to address the growing momentum around modeling in the Eclipse community, Milinkovich said, which is reflected in the number of conference sessions scheduled. "The EMF has become something of a de facto standard in the modeling space," he said. "IBM Rational, Borland and a lot of the other players are using EMF as the core of their modeling tools. We've had eight new modeling project proposals in the past few months, and there continues to be lots of interest and excitement in this area."

The predominant IDE tooling has come down to .NET and Eclipse, he added. "And the same pattern seems to be emerging in the modeling space." Domain-specific languages (DSLs) are also playing a growing role in modeling. It's a technology niche that Microsoft has been supporting for years, Milinkovich said, and the Foundation now sees it as an important emerging trend. Eclipse is addressing this trend with Xtext, a framework for the development of textual DSLs. It's analogous to Microsoft's MGrammar, a component of the Oslo modeling environment.

"The model UI is making Eclipse much more flexible and easier to modify, and it will enable the creation of domain-specific UI frameworks a lot easier," Milinkovich said. "So it would be simple to imagine, for example, creating a UI that is specific to a vertical, such as finance or insurance."

Bringing SWT to the Web
Work is also underway on the Eclipse UI library to bring the Standard Widget Toolkit (SWT)  to the Web, Milinkovich said. The SWT is an Eclipse toolkit for Java developers. It defines a common, portable, user interface API that uses the native widgets of the underlying operating system. Milinkovich said to expect an SWT browser edition that will run a subset of SWT on top of environments such as AJAX, Adobe's Flex and Microsoft's Silverlight.

"The goal will be to allow people to build applications that, as long as you follow certain conventions, will run on either a desktop or in a browser," Milinkovich said. "It will allow app developers to make that more of a deployment-time decision than a design-time decision."

EclipseCon attendees will also hear about the Foundation's new focus on verticals, Milinkovich said, which is already manifesting in the form of Industry Working Groups. The first of these, dubbed Pulsar, is an industry initiative aimed at creating a standard mobile application development tools platform based on the open source Eclipse framework.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].