Eclipsed by Europa

Eclipse LogoHave you been eclipsed lately? I mean software-wise, of course, using the Eclipse integrated development environment (IDE). Today I came pretty close to feeling eclipsed by the latest Eclipse download dubbed “Europa”. It began with the sheer size of the packages. 125 MB for the Eclipse JEE Europa version, 36 MB for web tools, another couple of megabytes for PHP development tools, visual editor, etc., etc. Not a problem with today’s DSL, you might think, and that is of course true if you live in America or Europe.

Unfortunately it’s a different story in Thailand. The Eclipse download page insisted on assigning a local mirror to me. This may be well-intentioned, alas not very effective, because servers located in Thailand tend to be bandwidth-drained, especially if it belongs to a public institution. Regrettably, there was no way to change that. The first connection delivered a whopping 4 kb/s download speed and stalled after 15 minutes. After that I decided to switch to BitTorrent. The BitTorrent software gave me 5 kb/s. That’s still dial-up speed, but at least a small improvement.

My computer spent the night downloading Eclipse files.In the morning, all the precious nuggets had arrived on my hard disk. Installation was a breeze compared to the download. Most of the standard components were already included in the Java EE download. I just had to add WTP, PDT, and a few other favourites on top of the Europa distro. In the past, this wasn’t always an easy task. I remember the time when some plugins depended on different, mutually incompatible versions of other plugins. The plugin architecture of the Eclipse framework is sort of asking for this type of problem.

Fortunately the days of dependency hell are gone thanks to synchronised update cycles of the Eclipse projects (there are 21 individual modules in the Europa release). In just a few minutes I had my shiny new Eclipse up and running. After starting it with the “-clean” parameter over the old workbench directory I was in business. It even accepted my old configuration settings. The thing I noticed first is that Europa launched considerably faster than my previous 3.2 version, but -good gracious- the title bar displayed “Program not responding” when I tried to interact with the menu. It seems that Eclipse is now initialising UI components after showing the IDE window and it keeps UI components locked during that time. Eventually after 10 seconds or longer, the program worked normally. I suspect that Eclipse is not loading faster after all; it just displays faster. The second surprise was that Eclipse opened external editor when I double-clicked on a JavaScript file in the navigator. What on earth? I thought I had WTP installed, which supposedly includes a JavaScript editor. Instead of getting to the bottom of that question, I decided to install my favourite JavaScript editor JSEdit, which now belongs to Adobe, but is still distributed freely. Eclipse IDE

Since I use Eclipse for Java as well as PHP development, I gave the new PHP Development Tools (PDT) a spin. PDT is now dubbed the premier PHP editor for Eclipse. To be honest, I was mildly disappointed. First of all, the outline view did not work. While syntax colouring and code folding were okay, the PDT editor lacks some of the features that I have grown used to, such as automatic code completion, marking of uninitialised local variables (which is great for typos in variable names), occurrence highlighting, instant compilation, etc.

Since all of these are real productivity gainers, I quickly reverted back to my old PHPEclipse plugin, after playing with PDT for a while. Because PDT is work in progress, I will certainly check back in a few months. The major incentive to use PDT instead of PHPEclipse is the integration of PDT with the Zend debugger plugin. What else is new in Eclipse? The interface now uses a gradient colour scheme which gives the UI a nice new look. Java code editing and refactoring has been improved. Code completion recognises Java types even if the respective imports haven’t been typed out yet. The code assist function is now able to to determine the legal types of exceptions in a catch clause based on the contents of the try block.

Unused members and types are now detected, and refactoring can be invoked from the context menu, which makes repetitive tasks, such as renaming identifiers, really easy. Though all of these are small incremental improvements, overall the JDT has become more intelligent as well as faster, which I am sure, every Java developer will appreciate. Of course, there are many more new features, in fact too many to list them here. In summary, Europa is definitely worth the download, even if you should feel a little “eclipsed” by the number and size of its of modules.