Microsoft, IBM Execs Lament IDE Challenges at EclipseCon

The evolution of integrated development environments (IDEs) is not keeping pace with hardware advances, such as bigger and better screens, and significant trends like cloud computing that should be making software development easier and more efficient. That was the conclusion of two unlikely bedfellows: the lead developers for IBM's Eclipse tools team and Microsoft's Visual Studio organization.

Speaking together at last week's EclipseCon 2009 conference in Santa Clara, Calif., Kevin McGuire, senior software developer at IBM (also known as the "Eclipse UI guy"), and Tim Wagner, development manager for Visual Studio at Microsoft, lamented those challenges.

Focusing on the Eclipse Framework and Visual Studio, which have emerged as the two main development tooling platforms, the pair sat onstage before EclipseCon attendees and discussed where IDEs have been and where they ought to be going.

"It's amazing how much of the stuff that we have today was in Eclipse 1.0," said Wagner, a former Eclipse board member and lead of the Eclipse Web Tools Platform (WTP) before recently joining Microsoft's Visual Studio team. "You've got the navigator on the left, the code editor in the middle, your work area on the bottom. The pictures have gotten prettier, but it's very much the same experience, just refined."

McGuire showed the same static refinement in screenshots of Visual Studio. "How is it that you can go back eight or nine years and it looks pretty much the same, when so much has changed around us?"

For these two "dinosaurs" to thrive in the future, they will need to exploit advances in chip power and multiple-chip architectures, explore the potential of multiple-monitor systems (files on the right, debugging session on the left), and even consider the possibility of an IDE in a Web browser.

Some of these ideas are being embraced by IDE designers. McGuire pointed to an experimental online code editor from Mozilla Labs called Bespin and the virtual desktop computer.

Microsoft is planning to support multiple monitors for the first time in Visual Studio 2010, Wagner said in a post-keynote interview. He called it "our single most requested feature." And the company has its IDE aimed squarely at the cloud.

Wagner had taken the expected Microsoft jabs -- even from McGuire, who showed a depiction of a future Visual Studio interface crammed with toolbars and windows -- with a grain of salt. One might ask: What was Microsoft doing at EclipseCon?

"One of the things I told Microsoft when I accepted this job was that you've got to go to an open source conference with an air of self-awareness and a good sense of humor," Wagner said. "It's really an honor to have Microsoft onstage at an Eclipse conference, and being able to be here discussing trends was win enough."

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].

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