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Call it the impossible dream. Every so often, somebody - usually from the Java side of the tracks - wants to best Microsoft's Visual Studio.

Macromedia, BEA Systems and Sun Microsystems are just three who've tried - and failed - to bring Visual Studio's drag-and-drop tooling to Java and lure those using Visual Basic into the world fathered by James Gosling.

Now the Apache Software Foundation's popular project-to-build system Maven and Eclipse, the only force to build market share and partner buy-in on a scale comparable with Visual Studio, are taking a shot at Visual Studio in team collaboration.

A Maven plug-in for Eclipse called M2Eclipse is due in the next eight weeks. This will integrate the two environments, providing automatic mapping of assets from build to release, eliminating the potential for bugs to creep in to the handover between teams. Integration is currently tricky and done by hand.

M2Eclipse will map repositories, project metadata, dependencies and configuration information of software built in Eclipse to the Maven project object model. Those building inside Eclipse will also be able to search projects and find plug-ins held in the Maven Central Repository.

Maven creator Jason van Zyl told El Reg the duo are striving to create a development environment as powerful as Visual Studio - only for Java.

This is the first step.

van Zyl believes Maven and Eclipse can go further in collaboration. The Maven repository combined with Eclipse's Mylyn for issue tracking will provide the collaboration he believes is missing in Visual Studio.

"We are working very closely with Eclipse. We have very capable developers working on integration," van Zyl said.

Of course, we've been here before. Visual Studio has long been regarded with envious eyes by the Java community, who coveted its drag-and-drop tools for simplified development on Windows. Being tied to Windows also helped on deployment, especially in recent years with the unified .NET Framework.

Before it was bought by Adobe Systems, Macromedia delivered ColdFusion to program for Java without the complexity. BEA created WebLogic Workshop in an effort to convert Visual Basic developers to Java and failed. Sun stepped up with Java Studio Creator and then went on to kill development four years later.

What's different this time? van Zyl claims there's a major commercial driver to the work, with paying customers calling for the power of a Visual Studio "like" environment for Eclipse-based Java development. According to van Zyl, he is already starting a number of projects with "huge" companies that are "driving us to have something that's comparable" to Visual Studio.

That's more than can be said of previous efforts.

Furthermore, Maven and Eclipse both have well-established user communities they can work with. Maven's been downloaded two million times, the Maven Central Repository gets pounded every month, and Eclipse hits around 1.5 million downloads a month after a new release. That's where BEA and Sun at least went wrong from the start: in trying to win over a non-existent market of theoretically disaffected Visual Basic developers to Java.®

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