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Bringing Eclipse RCP to Cellphones

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The embedded Rich Client Platform (eRCP) for Eclipse has recently released version 1.0. eRCP provides many of the same features for J2ME environments that the RCP does for the desktop, including OSGI and extension points, a version of SWT called eSWT, and eUpdate to provide dynamic updates. eRCP attempts to solve some of J2ME's shortcomings.

J2ME is available on millions of handsets already, yet it suffers from various problems that make it difficult to develop quality applications. A nice summary of the 1.0 release and what it means includes this list of weaknesses in J2ME:

  • Weak user interface. While Java has some decent graphics and multimedia capabilities it falls far short in offering the kinds of UI controls needed for many business and productivity applications.
  • Poor integration with the underlying operating system. On most phones Java applications do not do a good job of respecting the look and feel the user has selected for the handset. They also have limited and inconsistent access to built-in platform features like web browsers, Bluetooth radios, or even file systems.
  • No communication between applications. Java can only run one MIDlet at a time so there is no way for an application to deliver services to other running applications or for applications to share the user interface in any way.
  • No component model. There is no way to create software components that can be shared by more than one application. There is also no way for developers to push an update or a new feature to an application over the air without asking the user to reinstall the whole application.

eRCP provides, through eSWT, eJFace, and the rest of the components, is a set of tools and frameworks to make rich client development easier. Most of the major feature sets you expect from the RCP are provided, in slimmed down and optimized versions, for use in eRCP. As you would expect from SWT, you get native widgets, regardless of if you are on a Windows Mobile or a Symbian device. EclipseReview had a several page article describing all of the components of eRCP.

One limitation of the eRCP is that it is currently not available for all J2ME devices. They currently support Windows Mobile 2003/5.0, Symbian S60/S80, and QT embedded devices. Ports to other devices should not be too difficult, but are not yet released.

The eRCP team has already released a draft version of their plan for version 1.1, that calls for a focus on improving quality and usability (specifically pertaining to devices that require one handed operation and handling different screen sizes better). The draft calls for the first milestone build by mid-November.

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