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Refined but bloated

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The Eclipse Foundation's annual code blitz - this year under the name Ganymede - kicks off at the end of this month with 24 Eclipse projects co-ordinating their new releases.

Now in its third year, this annual big push keeps getting bigger. Ganymede is Eclipse's largest co-ordinate release of updated projects to-date, beating last year's update by three.

While this will suit the practical and commercial purposes of some, because it ensures integration and fewer bugs between multiple projects, the sheer number of updates here will fuel concerns that Eclipse is becoming bloated.

So what can we expect from Ganymede? Most upgrades to the integrated development environment (IDE) are continuations from last year's Europa release. There are, though also a couple of new ones deserving attention and a nod to claims that Eclipse is hard to use.

Most of Eclipse's main components will be upgraded to support Eclipse 3.4 in Ganymede - introducing a panoply of new features many of which are aimed at improving usability. Eclipse has been regularly criticized for its lack of usability compared to rival IDE NetBeans and recent calls to improve usability appear to be getting through to Eclipse managers.

Version 3.4 of Eclipse sees a number of changes at the API level and piecemeal improvements to several areas - although it seems any major changes are to be reserved for Eclipse 4.0, which is due in 2010.

Vital statistics

This year will see the first full release of the Eclipse Packaging Project (EPP) that aims to make it easier to download appropriate sets of components for Eclipse developers based on a user profile. Version 1.0 of EPP features Usage Data collector (UDC) that will generate statistics on how the various components of Eclipse are being used by developers. Data gathered by UDC includes loaded bundles, commands accessed via shortcuts and actions invoked via menus and toolbars. All Ganymede release components will include UDC.

Two projects stand out. Subversive - a plug-in for CollabNet's Subversion version control package - appears for the first time in a synchronized release. Subversion is reckoned to be the leading version control and software configuration management (SCM) tool and this update comes after CollabNet joined the Eclipse programme last year.

The Eclipse Rich AJAX Platform (RAP), which enables Eclipse to be used for building rich web applications, is also included. First released in October 2007, Eclipse RAP is an important part of Eclipse's expansion into run-time components. It is similar to the Eclipse Rich Client Platform (RCP). But instead of running on a local desktop, RAP uses the RAP Widget Toolkit (RWT), a special version of the Standard Widget Toolkit (SWT), to execute on a server.

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