10 Eclipse Projects That Have Made Waves in IT

Happy 10th anniversary to the open source foundation that has made millions of developers more productive.

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10 Eclipse projects that have made waves in IT

February marks the 10th anniversary of the Eclipse Foundation, an open source organization responsible for several key developer technologies, including the popular Eclipse Java IDE and the Mylyn task-focused interface. 

Spun out of IBM, the Eclipse Foundation has launched and guided several projects that have been downloaded millions of times and have served as the basis for numerous commercial products. The foundation started with 19 projects when it first formed; it now houses 247 projects as of early February.

Each year, the Eclipse Foundation puts out a “release train” of multiple projects and updates on the same day. Companies like Oracle, Google, and SAP have participated in Eclipse, along with IBM. Here are 10 key Eclipse projects that have made waves in IT.

Java Development Tools

The granddaddy of Eclipse projects, JDT (Java Development Tools) launched Eclipse in the minds of developers, says Eclipse Executive Director Mike Milinkovich. JDT features Eclipse Java IDE, which debuted in 2001. It is recognized as the leading Java IDE, Milinkovich notes, adding that since September 2013 alone, the IDE has been downloaded nearly 6 million times. Other capabilities in JDT include debugging support, an editor, and JDT UI. Plug-ins provide support for technologies like the Maven project management tool and Git software version control system.

Equinox

Released in June 2004, Equinox is the core runtime for the Eclipse platform and is a reference implementation for the OSGi specification, providing a modularity framework for Java and a lightweight container for applications. “The goal of the Equinox project is to be a first class OSGi community and foster the vision of Eclipse as a landscape of bundles,” according to Eclipse. 

Equinox has been featured in IBM WebSphere Liberty, a profile of the WebSphere Application Server that enables the server to provision only the features required by an application. Milinkovich expects Equinox to gain even more prominence as it becomes useful in embedded systems and the “Internet of Things,” the rapidly evolving trend of connecting and controlling a multitude of devices over the Internet.

C/C++ Development Tooling

Popular in embedded application development, CDT (C/C++ Development Tooling) serves as an IDE and toolset for C and C++ developers. Real-time platforms like QNX leverage CDT, which was launched in 2002. CDT supports project creation and managed builds, visual debugging, code editing, and other development capabilities. Google has been a key participant in this project, according to Eclipse.

Rich Client Platform

Shipped first in 2004, RCP (Rich Client Platform) has been broadly adopted as an enterprise desktop runtime for building desktop apps that are portable across Windows, Mac, and Linux, Milinkovich says, adding that many banks and other large organizations have built desktop applications using RCP. The platform includes Equinox and can be used to deploy native GUI applications. It also features an integrated update mechanism for deploying applications from a central server.

Eclipse Modeling Framework

Started in 2004, EMF (Eclipse Modeling Framework) is a technology used by most modeling tools from both Eclipse and commercial companies, Milinkovich says. “It is used as a core framework for implementing, for example, UML tools,” he explains, and it's used by products like Rational Software Architect. The framework and code-generation facility in EMF can be used to build tools and other applications based on a structured data model, and EMF provides tools and runtime support to produce Java classes for a model.

Web Tools Platform

Web Tools Platform is best known for providing Java EE (Enterprise Edition) tooling for Java developers, according to Milinkovich. Why the reference to Web tools, then? Because the scope of the project covers all aspects of Web development, including Java EE and HTML. The project adds capabilities for enterprise Java, such as servlets and Enterprise JavaBeans support. Developed in 2004, Web Tools Platform features source and graphical editors for various languages as well as wizards and built-in applications intended to simplify development. It also includes APIs to support application deployment and testing. IBM has been a major participant, with Oracle and Red Hat involved also.

PHP Development Tools

Led by PHP tools vendor Zend Technologies, PDT (PHP Development Tools) was founded in 2006 and brought PHP under the Eclipse umbrella. PDT is devised to provide the development components necessary to develop PHP-based Web applications, including a plug-in-enabled PHP IDE framework. "We had always been fans of the Eclipse project and decided that the time was right for Zend to step up and contribute a PHP development toolkit to the Eclipse ecosystem,” Zend CEO Andi Gutmans says. “Since that time, we have led the Eclipse PDT project, and with approximately 75,000 downloads annually, it has become one of the most popular plugins for Eclipse.” Gutmans believes having a free open source PHP IDE contributed to the growth of both Eclipse and PHP. 

Business Intelligence Reporting Tools

Started in 2005, BIRT (Business Intelligence Reporting Tools) is a reporting system that integrates with Java/Java EE applications. “BIRT was one of the first projects that expanded the definition of the developers that we were reaching with our tools -- from language developers to people who wanted visual layout tools for reporting and analysis,” Milinkovich says. Actuate has been a major contributor to the project.

Xtext

The Xtext project, begun in 2008, allows developers to build domain-specific languages; it is part of the Eclipse modeling community and extends EMF, Milinkovich says. “It covers all aspects of a complete language infrastructure, from parsers, over linker, compiler, or interpreter to fully-blown top-notch Eclipse IDE integration. It comes with good defaults for all these aspects, and at the same time, every single aspect can be tailored to your needs,” according to Eclipse. Itemis AG is the main contributor to Xtext.

Mylyn

Founded in 2005, Mylin offers a task-focused interface for organizing development activities in Eclipse, intending to reduce information overload and simplify multitasking, Milinkovich said. “Mylyn makes tasks a first-class part of Eclipse and integrates rich and offline editing for repositories, such as Bugzilla, Trac, and JIRA” according to Eclipse. The project was founded by Mik Kersten, now CEO of Tasktop Technologies, which builds its business around Mylyn. 

"I created Mylyn to help developers get control of their day,” Kersten says. “With the proliferation of agile and ALM tools, we needed a way to connect our collaboration with our coding. Mylyn did that by focusing the developer on the task-at-hand, adding social task management to the IDE, and automatically tracking context as you code.”