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What happened to all my Eclipse plug-ins?

Posted by flozano on February 10, 2006 at 6:39 AM PST

I must admit I'm having trouble figuring out the inner workings of the Eclipse ecosystem. Almost all main tool vendors participate in the project and you can find hundreds (if not thousands) open source plug-ins. In spite of that, Eclipse remains a difficult environment to start with, and it's not easy to identify a successful set of “must-have” open source plug-ins.

During the early days of Eclipse 2.0 I created my work environment around a set of small open source plug-ins: SolarEclipse, X-Men, JFaceDBC, AstonWizzards, Webapp and GenerateEqualsAndHashcode. With those, I had basic HTML and XML editing capabilities, easy debugging of servlets (but lacked debugging JSPs), the ability of testing SQL statements against my database, and templates to create Web app projects, action classes, the like.

But all of them became unmaintained (maybe with the exception of AstonWizzards). SolarEclipse, with would arguably be the most useful of those, had two child projects (that quickly became unmaintained also) and was incorporated alongside X-Men to the JBoss-IDE, which now uses WTP for equivalent functionality.

I didn't liked more powerful plug-in sets like MyEclipse and Lomboz. Not because I am biased towards open source software, but because those plug-ins imposed a too restrictive project and coding structure. They were not easy to integrate to existing projects and limited developers to the plug-in way of doing things. What if I don't want to use XDoclet? What if I don't want that use of the business delegate design pattern?

Eclipse WTP itself was the reason many of the plug-ins I was used to stopped evolving. And WTP took two years or more to provide the replacement functionality. Hint to people asking why Netbeans looks to have gained momentum during the latest year: developers need easy access to basic features, that Netbeans provided that with 4.0, 4.1 and 5.0, while Eclipse remained the basic edit-debug-refactor IDE.

I have yet to try WTP to see how it fits my working environment. It looks too big and complicated to start with, but I know from following the project mailing lists they had a design goal of flexibility and were actively pursuing it. My main complain is that they took too long to provide something usable.

Take VE as another example. It also killed incipient open source plug-ins dedicated to visual development, but it is not usable yet, besides being older than WTP, and a smaller project. The current release is too heavy and crashes a lot. While I understand the Eclipse goals are not just provide Java development tools, but infrastructure for any language, any platform and any library development tools, it's a shame we still don't have a good quality open source visual editor for Eclipse, be it for Swing or SWT.

Maybe the Eclipse Foundation should rethink its goals and practices, to give Eclipse users simpler ready-to-use tools in shorter time frames, instead of letting this task solely for tool vendors, which still tend to provide mostly proprietary tools. Maybe the Foundation should look at ways to better work alongside the community of small and open source plug-in developers, say providing them hosting infrastructure a la SourceForge and, or a catalog of third-party plug-ins, or simply be more active seeking their support and participation in extending the Eclipse platform. But maybe five years from now there will be only Eclipse and I'll realize how wrong I am now.

I see at BIRT as an example of what looks to me as weak interaction between Eclipse and the general open source community: while there are many open source powerful and mature reporting engines like JasperReports and JFreeReport, besides the charting engine JFreeChart, they created their reporting engine from scratch. Whatever the quality of the initial contributions to the BIRT project (I must concede they were quickier to provide results than VE and WTP) this sends out the message the Eclipse Foundation is not open to outside work.

After those rants, I'd like to know: what is your personal must-have set of Eclipse plug-ins?

Today I switched from Webapp to Sysdeo (and JBoss-IDE when I want EJB debugging), I hack X-Men to run with newer Eclipse releases, have my own set of AstonWizzards templates and add a couple more code-generation tools, besides PMD to remind me when I should be ashamed of my own code. I still do not have a preferred HTML / JSP editor, and sometimes use JBoss-IDE just for that.

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