Emacs being Eclipsed

One aspect of my new situation is that I’m writing some code again, having been doing mostly managementy things for the last couple of years. It’s fun to catch up.

I’ve been particularly impressed by Eclipse, a development environment that came from IBM originally, and has a large and growing community behind it. The recent eclipseCon conference had some influential keynote speakers, for example.

In my youth, serious programmers used the Emacs editor, which, if you could program in Lisp, could be made to do much more than just editing. There are Emacs games, mail readers, news readers and every variation of editing under the sun, all available from a few obscure keystrokes. The saying was that Emacs was “not so much an editor, more a way of life”. I know people who still use it for reading news and mail.

“Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail. Those programs which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.” Zawinski’s Law. Nowadays he would probably say “until it becomes a web browser”.

Well, I think Eclipse is the new Emacs. Strictly, it’s an environment for building development tools, and there are many many projects out there creating applications based around it. In more down-to-earth terms, the basic download gives you a really nice environment for Java development, and an easy system of plugins so you can get tools for other work as well – C/C++ coding, Quality Testing, GUI design, Nokia phone development, Web site creation, even COBOL programming. Eclipse is now apparently “the most popular Java IDE in North America“. And it’s not just because it’s completely free. Having used it for the last two days, I’m very impressed.

There’s an introduction to Eclipse on Apple’s site, though being written in Java, it will run on most platforms. IBM even offer Eclipse Innovation Grants for people doing interesting things with it.

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser