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The Eclipse Foundation is making a play for Microsoft's ISV partners deciding whether to port their applications to Windows Vista with a cross-platform alternative that expands their market reach.

The open source tools consortium has announced four new application frameworks under the umbrella Rich Client Platform (RCP) project. These are intended to help ISVs build client applications and interfaces using Java and XML.

Mike Milinkovich, Eclipse executive director, yesterday urged the legions of Microsoft ISVs to "look at RCP", warning that applications moved to Vista would not be backwards-compatible with older versions of Windows.

"Microsoft will be very busy trying to convince [ISVs] that now is the time to step away from Win32 to WinFX," he said. "In RCP, you find the framework lets you build Vista applications but ship product on Mac and Linux. If you are going to move off Win32 you should also look at RCP."

He added: "If you move your application to WinFX you are in a position to not be backwards compatible with Win32. "He was speaking at the annual EclipseCon show in Santa Clara, California.

The pitch comes as Eclipse also announced its latest application lifecycle management (ALM) project. Visual Studio Team System (VSTS). The Eclipse Tools Services Framework, called Corona, will build a server-based infrastructure for developers using Eclipse tools to share information.

Microsoft this month launched the final VSTS component Visual Studio Team Foundation Server, a server-based environment for collaboration between development teams. Compuware, Corona project leader, told The Register that Corona was "very comparable" with Team Foundation Server, for the Java camp.

Eclipse is now the second most popular integrated development environment (IDE), after Microsoft's Visual Studio, according to the analyst firm Evans Data Corp (EDC). Eclipse is used by 24.3 per cent compared to 55.3 per cent for Visual Studio. Eclipse usage has grown 88 per cent in North America since 2003.

At current growth rates, Eclipse could catch-up with Visual Studio in two years, Albion Butters, EDC senior analyst told EclipseCon. He outlined the challenges Eclipse faces in tempting Microsoft-friendly developers. Top of the list is addressing the perception that Visual Studio provides better functionality than Eclipse and the fact it has better support through the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN). Developers' familiarity with Visual Studio is also a challenge, as programmers expect similar features and functionality in alternative products.

"This isn't something that Eclipse can't surmount," Butters said. "It comes down to familiarity with Visual Studio at the adoption phase and people understanding it can do what they want."

Eclipse no doubt hopes that Windows Vista will do its bit to continue that growth. Windows Vista replaces Microsoft's Windows 32-bit API programming architecture with WinFX, a mark-up language-based framework. The goal is to attract developers previously put off by Win32, while enabling developers to build rich-interfaces and web services in XML.

Eclipse argues that if ISVs must change, they should at least evaluate an architecture and tools that can target more than just Windows Vista.

RCP uses Java SWT, which runs as a thin layer on top of the platform's underlying widget model so that ISVs' applications can adopt the look and feel of the platform. RCP applications can be deployed on Mac, Linux and Unix.

Microsoft is no stranger to attempts by the Java camp to exploit disruptions in its roadmap. In 2002 and 2003, for example, BEA Systems tried - and failed - to woo Visual Basic developers disgruntled by the launch of Visual Studio .Net to its WebLogic Workshop web services development environment. ®

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