Developers, Disney Make Odd Couple At EclipseCon

The Eclipse Foundation celebrated its independence from IBM this week with a conference that seemed to embody the open-source nature of the group's application development framework.

February 5, 2004

7 Min Read
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The Eclipse Foundation celebrated its independence from IBM this week with a conference that seemed to embody the open-source nature of the group's application development framework.

The Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, Calif., at first, seemed an inappropriate venue, as scruffy developer types and software industry luminaries, among them IBM Fellow Grady Booch, Sun Microsystems' Technology Evangelist Simon Phipps and Red Hat CTO Michael Tiemann, rubbed elbows and discussed the finer points of application coding to the incessant soundtrack of Disney tunes piped through every hallway.

Perhaps realizing that both Disney and open source use cartoon animals to promote their products--that Mickey Mouse and the Linux penguin might be considered distant cousins in the world of clever branding--attendees didn't let the occasional snide comment about chez Disney get in the way of the business of promoting Eclipse and open-source software in general.

IBM formed Eclipse in November 2001 to provide a standard IDE that supported the use of multiple tools from different vendors simultaneously. In short, it was and is an effort to solve compatibility problems between different vendors' Java tools. Any tools vendor can download Eclipse for free and create plug-ins to the framework that allow their tools to work seamlessly within the IDE.

Tiemann opened the day with a discussion of what he called the tipping point for Eclipse, the point at which a key group of people with the right connections, technology savvy and powers of persuasion might cause a software development revolution. He said that with the right amount of momentum, Eclipse might be a way to take software development to the next level.The next wave of software, he mused, should be one that won't waste $78 billion a year on bad software or software deployments that didn't achieve the desired results and are rendered useless, according to stats from The Standish Group.

"Maybe it's time for a positive Moore's Law for software," Tiemann said. "Every year software can be better integrated, always less expensive and more reliable and almost always more easily configured and maintained."

And lest those in the software business think that's too large a task to tackle, Tiemann challenged developers to at least make software "secure enough not to negate the benefits of Moore's Law."

Tiemann also said since Eclipse was born out of a need to unify often-interoperable Java tools environments, it might also serve as an olive branch to open-source developers who snub Java because of its proprietary ties to Sun Microsystems.

The Java and open-source communities "have been like oil and water," Tiemann said."Open-source developers are nothing if not pragmatic. They reject proprietary languages, tools and libraries," he said. "The Java development community is marginalized by Java apartheid,the notion that to be a member of Java community, you have to reject all other communities."

Since such thinking limits what Java or any other development language can do, a community like the Eclipse Foundation, which connects many disparate vendors and their technologies to one IDE, could help bridge the gap between Java and open source, Tiemann said.

In this way, Eclipse might at least nudge software development into a more productive realm, he said, encouraging the crowd to be a part of making Eclipse a successful framework. "Isn't it better to be riding that wave than to be caught in the undertow?" he asked.

Developers, like Sean Woodhouse, an Australian software architect at Argentis, a software and solution provider with a U.S. office in Walnut Creek, Calif., seemed to drink Tiemann's Kool Aid--or at least believed in giving Eclipse a fighting chance to help take the complexity out of software development.

"Eclipse has a lot of momentum and has ties to a lot of different vendors," Woodhouse said. He is currently involved in porting Argentis software to Eclipse from Sun's NetBeans IDE. Eclipse is a more robust framework and gives developers more flexibility because it allows use of various vendor tools for different aspects of development in one environment, he said.Advancements in the next version of Eclipse, slated to be available around June, also impressed Woodhouse. In particular, he said Eclipse 3.0's ability to separate various Eclipse frameworks, such as the GUI editing framework or modeling frameworks, from the IDE itself enables developers to build a broader range of applications using Eclipse.

"You can write an application, for example, for someone to do data entry into a system based on Eclipse without having the whole IDE look and feel, but in just a single window," Woodhouse said.

For the afternoon session, IBM's Booch took the stage, his long hair intact despite rumors abounding earlier at the show that he had shorn his gray locks. Booch gave a surprisingly entertaining talk on the history of software development, a topic that almost certainly would've been much less successful in less skillful hands.

But Booch, who later told CRNhe had a background in the theater and dramatic arts, worked the room like a stand-up comedian. His opening comment poked fun at the recent Janet Jackson Super Bowl controversy; he apologized for being late because he was backstage "making sure I didn't have any wardrobe problems today."

All jokes aside, Booch, with a presentation that covered the evolution from early Pascal and Altair Basic development tools to current IDEs like Microsoft Visual Studio and Macromedia Dreamweaver, drove his point home: that software development, while getting better all the time, is still a difficult endeavor indeed."Software development has been, is and will remain fundamentally hard," Booch said. "There is an intrinsic complexity to it that we will never overcome."

However, through the years, developer tools have managed to make development somewhat easier by "raising the levels of abstraction," Booch said.

"We certainly see this as a move forward," he said.

But Booch insisted that software development in the future can take a greater leap forward through tools that take into consideration available technology advancements without compromising what he called "the human factor" of software development.

"Humans build software and interact with tool. You can't eliminate that equation," Booch said. "We don't need tools that require rocket scientists to use them; we need tools that are simpler."Two technologies IBM Rational plans to support in its own tools that take into account this human factor are collaborative development environments and aspect-oriented programming.

Collaborative environments enable teams of developers with different skill levels and in different locations to communicate via the Web so they can work on a project together, Booch said. IBM is supporting collaborative development through Jazz, a former IBM Research project that now is a plug-in for Eclipse.

Aspect-oriented programming includes semantic aspects in tools that take into account software development concerns from different perspectives and compartmentalizes them in the development process, he said. IBM Rational also is exploring ways to incorporate this into future versions of its tools.

While all of this talk of software innovation was certainly inspiring to consider from an evolutionary perspective, it was unfortunate that the EclipseCon show planners didn't take the same enlightened approach to Internet access.

Wireless access for attendees was limited to one stretch of hallway in the main conference venue and was slow and temperamental at that, with several networks running at varying degrees of connectivity throughout the day. Wireline access was limited to 20 Ethernet cables set up across one long table in the same general area and was crowded all day with techies desperately needing to feed their Internet jones.And despite the overall gung-ho atmosphere, not everyone at the show was blinded by the Eclipse frenzy. Near the Internet cafe mid-afternoon Wednesday, one developer chatting with another nearby said he preferred to use NetBeans, a development environment overseen by Sun, a company whose refusal to join Eclipse has spurred much controversy.

The second developer told him that he liked Eclipse because you can plug different tools into the environment, which is precisely the functionality IBM promoted when the company built the framework.

"Really, you can do that?" the other developer said, one EclipseCon attendee who was apparently oblivious to how Eclipse works. "Well, maybe I will have to take a look at it."

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