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Open-Source Tool Gains Traction To Help Build User Interfaces

Eclipse, the open-source programmer's workbench, is gaining use as a platform for building rich client, interactive end-user interfaces for distributed systems.

Until recently, Java tools had been employed for server applications and were overshadowed by the popularity of Microsoft's Visual Studio .Net toolset for end-user interfaces. The Eclipse Foundation has been attempting to counter that, given its strong Java tool constituency, by setting standards and making available tools for an Eclipse Rich Client Platform (RCP).

A recent survey by Evans Data, a programmer market research group, indicated that 23% of 384 respondents were building rich client applications with the Eclipse RCP. The survey focused on users of Eclipse, so it can't be viewed as competitive analysis with Microsoft's Visual Studio. Nevertheless, the survey results showed RCP gaining traction, up from 9.3% of a similar number of respondees last year.

"There are few things more demanding than rich client user interfaces," noted Mike Milinkovich, executive director of the Eclipse Foundation. Rich client applications seek to provide end users with data from a server that they can work with on a PC in a series of interactions with a server. The Eclipse RCP gives developers a library of user interface components and a best-practices approach to implementing them.

RCP shouldn't be confused with rich clients that work over the Internet. Internet rich clients typically stage user interactions in the browser window, which has many limitations. For its part, Eclipse RCP seeks to put a series of interactions with the user into an application running on a desktop or laptop Windows PC, Apple Macintosh, or Linux-driven computer.

Nevertheless, Milinkovich said Eclipse RCP is "being viewed as an alternative to Microsoft's .Net" because it follows industry standards, set by the OSGi standards body, formerly known as the Open Services Gateway Initiative. It also reaches a variety of client platforms instead of being Windows-centric, he said in an interview.

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