About a year ago, I was anxious that an upgrade from the Visual Editor Project might be included in the Eclipse Europa (3.3) release…

I’m a big fan of the portability, speed, and general native feel of SWT, and I’m generally a fan of the Eclipse setup. I’ve also done a good bit of C# stuff for hacking out GUIs for one-off apps. It’s actually easier than dealing with console scripts and you can hand off an .exe to let someone accomplish something without a proper shell. Given that working with Sakai is pretty Java-intensive, and that I was bouncing between OSX/XP, I figured these lightweight admin-style GUIs could be hacked together in SWT… Boy, was I wrong.

I admire the complexity of a GUI builder that generates all kinds of layout code, etc. It’s definitely not something I want to take on as a project right now. But, I’m pretty frustrated with the VEP. It missed the Europa bundle – no big deal, I thought – “there’ll be a package soon enough; this is important stuff”. Along comes October (three full months later), and this is posted on the main page:

Visual Editor + Europa == ouch

To my knowledge, this is the only official status update from the VEP since. While scraping the blogs and forums, I found one guy who seems to be maintaining unofficial builds, but I don’t see any active development at all. If you’re dangerous, you can check out http://www.ehecht.com/eclipse_ve/ve.html – he even has a Ganymede M3-compatible bundle – I’m too scared disinterested busy to spend the time.

And now that NetBeans has released 6.0 with cleaned up usability and the actually-funded Matisse, I’m really starting to wonder if I should give it another look. Another really cool feature I saw demoed was live model diagrams with full round-tripping right in the IDE. And they seem to have a BPEL designer integrated, which tickles my SOA side.

I’m not giving up on Eclipse, but I treat free software kind of like free agency: I use and probably contribute to what works for me. The adoption/switching cost is based on learning/porting time and, for an IDE, I figure that to be about two weekends of hacking to get productive. If I can crank up and save a few hours at a crack by being able to whip up a GUI and evolve a new data model with autodiagrams, it’s pretty tempting. -NB

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09 March 2008