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Orion – Eclipse for the Web

by Michael Stal on Feb 15, 2011 |

Mike Milinkovich, Executive Director of the Eclipse Foundation, announced in January a new tool named “Orion”. This “brand new adventure for Eclipse”, as Mike puts it, will provide a browser-based environment for open tool integration. Beginning of February the team released milestone M5 of Orion.

The Eclipse platform has one of the largest developer communities among all existing integrated development environments. One reason for its success is the extensibility the open-source platform provides out of the box, attracting many contributors to provide new features or to build their own applications on top of the Eclipse framework. However, for writing Web-based applications it may appear anachronistic to use an IDE which has to be installed on the developer’s computer. This especially holds true in a time when Cloud Computing may revolutionize IT. A Web-based IDE might offer benefits such as zero installation efforts on the client, scalability of server platforms, or simple connectivity.

Orion intends to move the Eclipse platform to the Web. In contrast to prior Eclipse code bases, it represents a browser-based development tool for Web applications with the client-side and tools all written in JavaScript. As Mike puts it, “this is not an IDE running in a single tab. Links work and can be shared. You can open a file in a new tab. Great care has been taken to provide a web experience for development.” Currently, Orion’s server side comprises an OSGi-based implementation using Jetty as a web container. All communication between client UI and server is based upon a RESTful API.

It is important to consider that the development of Orion just began, although a first proof-of-concept implementation has been made available on the Eclipse E4 download site. Beginning of February milestone M5 of Orion has been shipped which offers an early integration of Firebug and supports user customizable editor actions.

Mike’s blog received a lot of positive responses. However, not all developers fully embrace the idea of an online version of Eclipse. One example is Zviki Cohen who claims that most online IDE available today are Web-based clients for a small set of proprietary as well as specialized backend programming services while Eclipse offers a rather large ecosystem.

According to Mike Milinkovitch, there will be a face-to-face meeting of interested committers in Ottawa, Canada, beginning of March deciding on Orion’s further direction and roadmap. Further information on project Orion is also available by Boris Bokowski’s who is the Eclipse Platform UI lead.

 

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With regards to my article... by Zviki Cohen

I wrote the article almost 3 years ago. Fast forward to the present, web based editing tools like Google Docs are soaring but we still don't see a prominent online IDE. The single success story is Heroku, which was successful because it created a platform. In fact, they collaborated with Aptana (Eclipse-based), and I believe it was because the online IDE solution was not enough.

I like the fact that Orion is not turning the browser into an IDE, but rather turns the IDE into a web experience. I wrote about it in my article that the synergy of true web services will make the difference. On the flip-side, it is JavaScript based, and, while I do see JavaScript picking up even more momentum (e.g. node.js), I think it will take a long time to provide all the rich functionality using JavaScript. There's a lot less talent and... ironically... inferior tools for JavaScript.

Finally, there's a big question of what happens in the server side. For example, if the server needs to do code analysis for each developer, we are talking about some intensive computing power and some mighty big data... For large organizations, that might be cost-effective if everybody switched to NetBooks/NetTops. I don't see that happening yet.

Orion is something new by Ian Skerrett

FWIW, I wanted to be clear that Orion is not about 'moving the Eclipse platform to the Web.' It is a brand new code base with a new approach to web development tools. For instance, the tool integration model is based on url, not linking code. Also, Orion attempts to take advantage of the browser capability, not trying to recreate an IDE on a browser page.

It is exciting stuff and we welcome input and participation for anyone interested.

Ian Skerrett
Eclipse Foundation

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