James Governor's Monkchips

Eclipse Rich Client Platform: the next computing revolution

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I have long argued that Eclipse was going to shake up the smart client space. In fact, i was arguing that before IBM even began its rich client work under the auspices of the Eclipse organization. The thing is, Eclipse was never going to be just an IDE. It was never going to be a tool only used by developers or operators. Eclipse is a framework for everything, and when did a developer environment not drive an approach to the client, especially when it has so much cross platform widgetry?

Its one of my pet arguments that every computing revolution has an associated UI element, as we get more and more distributed. You might say duh, but i am not sure the meme is completely intuitive. But punchcards, green screen, the web, client/server, Mac, Windows, were all UI revolutions framed in visual terms. These were UI, more than functional, revolutions. Java was driven by Web apps, initially at least. Gates gets it – that is why he is focusing on Longhorn and natural language innovation so hard. I think you could argue the iPod’s success was largely driven by the user user interaction model that Apple put forward, that is what makes the platform so exploively successful. Every computing revolution, by this argument, has an associated UI revolution.What is AJAX if not an approach to delivering rich user experiences? Google simplicity was another revolution in how we work with the machine, and each other.

But back to Eclipse. So where all these rich client apps? Its very early days, but a nice mix of corporate and grassroots apps are emerging. One of my favourites is RSSOwl, which is really cool because RSS-client side aggregation is a space that needs innovation.

Now Ian Skerret, Eclipse marketing maven, has compiled some screen shots of Eclipse rich client apps.

Eclipse RCP may be nowhere near as rich as Flash, nor have even a micro-fraction the number of users. But it is an environment where tons of developers live every day. Where they can view source across any component. And as the Web has repeatedly shown, the richest experience doesn’t always win. The sourciest does. Obviously AJAX building styles are in the mix too, for the same reason, and Flash and AJAX are showing nice familiarity. 

But it seems clear that a strong new open source competitor has emerged for Microsoft in the the rich client space, perhaps the only obvious competition from an offline data store perspective. All those Longhorn delays gave Eclipse a lot of the breathing space it needed. I had wondered initially if IBM was the only company that was going to go heavy with Eclipse RCP, with its Workplace platform, but it seems the story is already wider than that.

Ian plans to emphasize RCP at the forthcoming Eclipse 3.1 launch. At this juncture, i should put forward a disclaimer. We have recently been doing some consulting with Eclipse.

If you are an industry analyst reading this and would like to a briefing on 3.1, Ian recently asked on his blog who wants a briefing? I would have thought Dan Sholler and Daryl Plummer should be in the mix, Nick Gall (mass amateurisation? nice meme guy) too.

Dan said  “Every programmer knows that their life would be easier if they had a better persistence framework/source code manager/build tool etc. And of course, these are the very same people who not only are familiar with the problem domain, but have the skills to create the solution.”  Yup…

Notice that i haven’t spoken to Java yet. Eclipse may originally not have had Sun in IBM’s sights, but today its pretty clear Java as a rich client has some substantive competition in the shape of Eclipse. Sun certainly isn’t standing still though- good on you, Sun. Innovation comes from competition. AJAX meets Java blueprints, led by Inderjeet Singh.

When it comes to Java UIs Sun pretty much owns the mobile phone gaming space. Even Scoblephones run Java apps, games and ringtones in wireless carrier walled gardens.

So are we really on the verge of another UI revolution? I would have thought the answer is yes. We’re all publishers now. The web is becoming more interactive by the day, and more data-driven. How will users participate? Ludicorp has some answers, but so does Eclipse.

A big question for Ian – can you reach out to the REST and AJAX crowds, focusing as they are on the intersection of design and software development? Can you make Eclipse appeal to designers cum developers? As John Bouttelle points out, its all about interaction design… because designers are the new heroes. Its all about small pieces and remixing, right? So what is Eclipse RCP doing to fulfil the needs of the small pieces crowd?

Can you reach out to folks like Anil Dash, Jon Udell, and various other scrubbers (what better name for people that like AJAX so much?)

Another UI revolution, another computing revolution.  Or maybe just some cool apps. hey – i would be happy if back buttons worked right, and RSS buttons didn’t feed out gobbledegook, but actually did something useful. but sometimes its the small things that are truly revolutionary. Why not check out RSSOwl to see what i am talking about.


  1. Jimbo, be careful with this one. What’s revolution in your mind? A lot of what you talk about is evolution – of ideas (or memes, if you prefer) that have been around for a long time and which are merely being re-implemented in new ways.

    Can you seriously contend that all significant computing evolutions are tightly coupled to UI evolutions? There may be loose association because invention in one area can lead to new UI ideas – but it’s not as simple as you suggest. What about relational DBMSs? PKI? XML? Distributed transaction processing monitors? Pub sub event based middleware? I could go on.

    Also don’t fixate too much on Eclipse and Microsoft in the RCP game. Flash has some decent offline persistent storage capability too, and good sync capability. Via MX and Flex it can also be a RCP for enterprise apps and data. It’s increasingly available on phones. And check out http://www.sap.com/company/press/press.epx?PressID=4519 to see what’s starting to happen.

  2. thanks for thinking of me, James.. I will follow up with Ian right away.

  3. James, I would love to reach out to the REST and AJAX crowd. Having someone start a REST and/or AJAX project would be pretty cool.

  4. Look at Lazslo http://www.openlaszlo.org/

    Like AJAX but it depends on Flash. Intriguing demos.

  5. And look at http://alphaworks.ibm.com/tech/ide4laszlo/ where it mentions that the Laszlo tools are Eclipse-based 🙂

    Also see http://news.com.com/Macromedia+aligns+with+Eclipse/2100-1032_3-5730781.html?tag=nefd.top where Macromedia announces their plans to build their “…”next-generation rich Internet application development tool,” code-named Zorn, based on Eclipse”.

    I would not characterize Eclipse as competing with RIA….we work there also.

  6. I dont think Eclipse is a revolution – it only assembles good ideas mixed with good marketing. Nothing really new. It also helps Java developers finding more acceptance for their applications by providing a native look.

    Even with nice tools Eclipse is still not the most powerfull tool since it’s weakest point is IMHO Java. Any Smalltalk IDE is much more flexible since it is based on pure objects not on files, static typing and static languages. Some examples:

    Can I fix a bug in Eclipse itself while it is running without restarting or debugging from another eclipse session? Can I add a feature to the debugger even when there is no extension point defined – just since I have to fix it or want to include a tool I need for faster development?
    Can I save the complete object environment (Object memory) in an image while debugging and continue debugging at exactly the same point the next day or on another computer?
    Can I add a new control structure to the underlying language while the IDE is running and without changing the parser/scanner/compiler?

    Can I script the whole environment like in a Smalltalk system where you can write:

    TestCase allSubclasses do:
        [:each | each removeFromSystem]

    to get rid of all unit tests in the IDE for example? In Smalltalk I can use the same language to build and deploy my applications. There is no need for a different technology like Ant and remembering xml-tags/ant tasks. Anything is open, accessible and changable. Even the language itself is just assembled from objects.

    I agree that Eclipse does a good job in providing a nice platform for RC applications, frameworks and tools. Nothing else.

    Have a look at: http://www.opencroquet.org. Download and try it. I would call Croquet a revolution, but not Eclipse.

    But as Alan Kay says:
    “The Computer “Revolution” Hasn’t Happened Yet!”
    (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Kay)

  7. Henry Jacob (http://www.henryjacob.com) has a post called “Why Eclipse RCP is going to rule the world” and given 5 interesting reasons for that.


  8. Henry Jacob (http://www.henryjacob.com) has a post called “Why Eclipse RCP is going to rule the world” and given 5 interesting reasons for that.


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