Picking the right Eclipse distribution for you

Products based on Eclipse provide different features for varying needs

Which Eclipse distribution is right for you? Commercial distributions (distros)based on Eclipse Europa offer different features and conveniences. Many commercial ones also offer free or community editions to download and use. This article compares the CodeGear JBuilder 2008 Turbo trial version, nexB EasyEclipse, IBM's Europa bundles, and Innoopract's Yoxo On Demand distros — all of which allow you to download a prepackaged, customized version of Eclipse Europa, and many of which already contain the plug-ins and tools you need to start working right away.

Nathan A. Good, Senior Information Engineer, Freelance Developer

Nathan Good lives in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. Professionally, he does software development, software architecture, and systems administration. When he's not writing software, he enjoys building PCs and servers, reading about and working with new technologies, and trying to get his friends to make the move to open source software. He's written and co-written many books and articles, including Professional Red Hat Enterprise Linux 3, Regular Expression Recipes: A Problem-Solution Approach, and Foundations of PEAR: Rapid PHP Development.


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20 May 2008

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Get the distros

This article introduces Eclipse distributions and uses four based on Eclipse as an example of how successful extensible products can be based on the Eclipse platform.

This article shows how you can extend the Eclipse platform and demonstrates some bundles of Eclipse that include various plug-ins. All the distributions of Eclipse mentioned are free for you to download and try. Links to the distributors are provided in the Resources section.

The Eclipse integrated development environment (IDE) is an extensible platform with many plug-ins and extensions built on top of it. The base platform allows you to add whatever you want to build an IDE that suits your needs.

The base platform and collection of plug-ins and extensions are built on the Equinox OSGi framework, which is an implementation of the OSGi R4 core framework specification (see Resources). Essentially, OSGi provides a way to build Eclipse (the platform) as a collection of plug-ins and extensions that work together as services to provide functionality. This framework is the reason the Eclipse platform is so extensible and can support so many languages and features.

If you're using the Eclipse platform, you can get almost exactly the features you want in one download. All you have to do is find the right distribution (distro), decide on a licensing or pricing model that works for you, and download and use the distro. Each distro offers different features — some unique to a vendor or distributor — but they're all built on the same platform: Eclipse.

If you have Eclipse installed and want to see which features and plug-ins are installed on your system, open the About window for Eclipse. In the window similar to Figure 1 (this window may vary slightly by distribution or vendor), click Feature Details. A list of features and their providers is displayed, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 1. The About Eclipse Platform window
About Eclipse
Figure 2. Feature details
Feature details

To see the exact versions of the plug-ins installed, click Plug-in Details. You will see a full list of the plug-ins, including the vendors, versions, and IDs.

Figure 3. Viewing the plug-in details
Viewing the plug-in details

What is a distro?

A collection of tools that includes the Eclipse platform and one or more plug-ins or extensions is referred to by many names, including package, bundle, or distribution (distro). To eliminate a bunch of typing, I refer to a distribution of projects based on Eclipse as a distro throughout this article, although you're likely to notice that each vendor refers to its distro with any one of the other terms I mentioned.

In the Eclipse Downloads area, there are five Eclipse Europa distros:

  • Eclipse IDE for Java™ Developers
  • Eclipse IDE for Java Enterprise Edition (Java EE) Developers
  • Eclipse IDE for C/C++ Developers
  • Eclipse for Rich Client Platform (RCP)/Plug-in Developers
  • Eclipse Classic

Each of these has different features and is targeted to a different audience. If you're only doing Java development, you wouldn't bother downloading or installing all the plug-ins and extensions that provide C or C++ features.

The Eclipse licensing model allows users to build whatever they want on the platform and re-release it as a unique distribution. (If this interests you, see the Eclipse Public License for details.) If you wanted to, you could download the Eclipse platform (see Resources) and start downloading plug-ins for it. When you like what you have, you can re-release it as a distro for Eclipse. You can even alter things like the startup screen (see Figure 4 for the standard Europa startup screen) and Welcome page (see Figure 5) to give the distribution your own branding. For more information about Eclipse, see the Licensing FAQ in Resources.

Figure 4. The standard Europa startup screen
The standard Europa startup screen
Figure 5. The Welcome page
The Welcome page

CodeGear's JBuilder 2008 Turbo

CodeGear, from Borland Software Corp., offers JBuilder 2008 Turbo, which is based on Eclipse Europa. It is available for Mac OS X, Microsoft® Windows®, and Linux®. JBuilder 2008 Turbo is the community edition of a full line of JBuilder 2008 products available from CodeGear. The download requires registration and is a pretty hefty download (the JBuilder 2008 Turbo version I downloaded for Mac was 1.1 GB). It comes with many features, including those used for visually modeling Enterprise JavaBean (EJB) elements and tools for streamlining team development.

Main features

JBuilder 2008 Turbo comes with many open source projects installed. It also gives you the opportunity to install a few different servers when you're performing the JBuilder installation.

Figure 6. Adding servers during installation
Adding servers during installation

Features include:

  • Application Factory from CodeGear
  • Swing Designer from Instantiations Inc.
  • EJB Tools from CodeGear
  • Mylyn from Eclipse.org
  • Spring IDE from Spring IDE Developers

What you can do

With JBuilder 2008 Turbo, you can do development in the following technologies right away:

  • EJB development
  • Swing user interfaces (UIs)
  • Tapestry Web projects
  • JavaServer Faces (JSF) projects
  • Web services
  • Access Subversion
  • AspectJ

In addition, JBuilder 2008 Turbo comes with the following plug-ins installed:

  • m2eclipse for Maven2 integration
  • Find Bugsfor static code analysis
  • PMD for analyzing your Java code

nexB EasyEclipse

EasyEclipse from nexB is an open and free site distribution that offers several versions of the distribution. Each supports Mac OS X, Linux, and Windows. EasyEclipse comes in several distributions:

  • EasyEclipse Expert Java
  • EasyEclipse Desktop Java
  • EasyEclipse Server Java
  • EasyEclipse Mobile Java
  • EasyEclipse for Plugins and RCP Apps

Dynamic languages are also supported, such as EasyEclipse for LAMP, EasyEclipse for PHP, EasyEclipse for Ruby and Rails, and EasyEclipse for Python. Finally, you can download EasyEclipse for C/C++ development.

The EasyEclipse distros include the base Eclipse platform plus some commonly used and useful projects to make development easier. The EasyEclipse Desktop Java distro includes the base Eclipse platform plus those projects listed in Table 1 and more.

Table 1. Additional projects with nexB EasyEclipse
Project nameProvides
AnyEdit ToolsConvenient context menu items, such as Open file under cursor
Eclipse UtilsSaves your cursor place in editors when closing Eclipse
Eclipse Visual EditorAllows you to edit SWT, Swing, and AWT with a visual editor
EclipseNSISAllows you to create native installers for your Java applications
SubclipseProvides access to Subversion source repositories

Main features

A main feature of EasyEclipse is that it includes several plug-ins that are easy to download and install, already bundled for you, and tested to ensure that they work in the EasyEclipse distro. EasyEclipse comes with an installer written for your particular operating system. For instance, the Mac download includes a PKG installer (shown in Figure 7). The Windows download includes a Windows-style installer. While it is convenient that many Eclipse distros are simple ZIP files — including the distro from Eclipse.org. It's nice to have the installation built into the operating system to manage installing and uninstalling it.

Figure 7. The PKG installer for Mac
The PHP installer for Mac

After installing EasyEclipse, you'll notice that the startup screen is slightly different when you start it up (see Figure 8). The additional features installed are Subclipse (the plug-in that enables you to connect to Subversion repositories), the Utils plug-in, the AnyEdit plug-in, and the Syntax coloring plug-in.

Figure 8. The EasyEclipse startup screen
The EasyEclipse startup screen

What you can do

Depending on which distro of EasyEclipse you download, you can do development in the following technologies right away:

  • EJB technology
  • Swing, AWT, or SWT UIs
  • PHP
  • Ruby
  • Access Subversion

For example, I downloaded the EasyEclipse Desktop Java distro and was quickly able to create an SWT visual shell class.

Figure 9. Creating a visual SWT class in EasyEclipse
Creating a visual SWT class in EasyEclipse

IBM's Europa bundles

Like EasyEclipse, IBM® offers no-hassle downloads — which don't require registration — for bundles of Eclipse. The links for the distros on the IBM page allow you to download versions built for Windows.

Main features

There are four distros on the IBM developerWorks page: Europa Java EE, testing, modeling, and enterprise. The enterprise distro includes all the other distros, so download that one to save time.

At first glance, the IBM-bundled distros look identical to those on the Eclipse Web site. For instance, the Eclipse Java EE distro on Eclipse.org and the Java EE distro on the IBM-bundled site might look like the same distro. They differ quite a bit in downloaded file size, but finding the features at first glance is a little trickier.

What you can do

After downloading the IBM Europa bundles, you can do development in the following technologies right away:

  • EJB technology
  • Integration with IBM WebSphere® products

Innoopract

Innoopract, with its Yoxos On Demand Eclipse download service, provides a unique way of building and downloading your very own distro. Using a Web-based UI like the one shown in Figure 10, you select the features you want. When you're done, you can save your profile or start your download.

Figure 10. Using the Yoxos On Demand Eclipse download service
Using the Yoxos On Demand Eclipse download service

Features

Features for the Innoopract distribution of Eclipse are difficult to enumerate because you add them as you want them. This a la carte method of building your own download is in itself a powerful feature, as is the ability to save your specification so you can use it later. Click the Yoxos On Demand Eclipse download service link in Resources for a full list of available plug-ins.

What you can do

Because Innoopract offers the ability to build your own Eclipse distro, you can do pretty much anything you're able to add to your custom distro and download.


Summary

Depending on what you want to do, there is probably a commercial or free distro built on the Eclipse platform waiting for you. From C/C++, Ruby, PHP, Groovy, Java, and Web development, you can use an IDE built on Eclipse to help you.

Resources

Learn

Get products and technologies

Discuss

  • The Eclipse Platform newsgroups should be your first stop to discuss questions regarding Eclipse. (Selecting this will launch your default Usenet news reader application and open eclipse.platform.)
  • The Eclipse newsgroups has many resources for people interested in using and extending Eclipse.
  • Participate in developerWorks blogs and get involved in the developerWorks community.

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